Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chicken in a Pot (Poulet en Cocotte)

I mentioned this recipe a couple of months ago and said I'd "report how it goes" and, of course... I never did... but I made it again earlier this week... so I have seized this opportunity to make some fresh comments and practice taking food pictures without a flash(need better lighting).

What's most interesting about this recipe(to me) is that the version Cook's Illustrated published in January 2008(warning $$$ required to view) differs significantly from the recipe in their International Cookbook(which is what I have been using). The magazine version uses celery and onion with garlic and rosemary as the aromatics that "casserole roast" with the chicken, while the cookbook goes for just shallots and garlic. The magazine also browns the chicken and veggies on the stove top first - which is a great idea - and cooks at a ridiculously low temperature (250 vs. 375 degrees) for almost twice as long (80-110 vs. 60 minutes 4.5-5 lb bird) - which is a weird idea. The subsequent jus from the magazine article is interesting as well, as it is merely strained and defated before being flavored with lemon juice... whereas the cookbook calls for adding chicken broth and white wine that get reduced with some added thyme and bay leaves before being thickened with chilled butter.

I guess the sauces go down to a matter of preference, as I can see the merits of either approach, and since I haven't tasted the simpler method I can't honestly judge. However, the idea of cooking at the chicken at a low temperature seems pretty silly to me... despite the fact that I haven't tasted that either, I'm pretty confident on this one... since cooking at 375 for an hour seems pretty foolproof from my experience, and has the advantage of being doable on a weeknight. The argument used in the magazine (protect the breast meat from becoming tough with the low temp) seems out of whack since the moist and delicious breast meat is the whole reason I keep coming back to this recipe. It is probably worth a try, however, next time I want to put a chicken in a pot... we'll see. The idea of browning on the stove top, however, is definitely a good one... and I'm a little chagrined I didn't think of it. The major "weirdness" of this French dish is how undercooked the skin looks by the time the chicken is perfect... browning a bit beforehand would probably do a lot to remedy this, and add a little more flavor into the juices that while make your sauce.

So next time I do this, browning is definitely the plan... but otherwise I think it's a pretty close to perfect recipe. Highly recommended.

UPDATE: But maybe what I really need to do is whip out my Mastering the Art of French Cooking and try it Julia's way. A little more showy, but certainly it sounds delicious.