I've made Chicken in a Pot (Poulet en Cocotte) several times over the years... and as long as your favorite part of cooking a whole chicken isn't crispy skin, but is instead perfectly cooked and moist meat, I think it's a pretty easy and fool proof way to go. Before getting into the specifics of this particular Dorie Greenspan recipe, the general outline of this classically French method (see Julia Childs' recipe) is exactly what it says in the title: you are braising the whole chicken in a covered pot with some assortment of root vegetables. It's just about as easy to do as a roast chicken... though a bit more time consuming to get in the oven because you'll want to brown the chicken and vegetables for color and flavor first. Note that you can still overcook a chicken into a dry chalky mess this way, but it is significantly harder in my experience... the handful of times I've made Chicken in a Pot the temperatures of the breast and thigh where right on and didn't need to go back in the oven. Which is quite handy in this Dorie Greenspan recipe because you can't simply pop the lid off and check the chicken's temperature. Why? Because you actually seal the pot closed with a round of dough:
Which is cool but seemingly unnecessary? I mean, yeah, you can seal that lid up tight, but is it really so much better than a simple layer of aluminum foil? Dorie certainly seems to think so, and admittedly it's a pretty fun presentation, but I guess I have my doubts. You need something like a screwdriver to lever off the lid, but surprisingly, once the pot was cool, the dough round came off quite easily... in one piece and leaving very little in the way residue. So, fortunately, my fears of an arduous clean up process turned out to be unfounded.
A couple of other notes before the recipe: 1) it calls for preserved lemons which you can buy or make, and 2) Dorie likes her vegetables rustic. So for the latter that means big chunks of vegetables, whole (small) onions with the root end still attached, and whole unpeeled garlic cloves. I've come to like her treatment of whole shallots/pearl onions, but the garlic thing is more difficult to appreciate. I guess the issue is that the garlic would likely disintegrate into the cooking liquid otherwise, but chomping down on those papery skins on what you thought was a shallot isn't very pleasant. On the other hand, spreading that garlic onto a piece of crusty bread and sopping up that cooking liquid is quite delicious... so if you leave the garlic unpeeled as she suggests, just make sure whoever you are serving this to is ready for a true "homestyle" eating experience.
To sum up my thoughts on this recipe, to really maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of this recipe you're going to want to crack the lid at the table and serve people directly out of the pot... just let 'em dig in there. To that extent, I think I would go with a previously cut up chicken instead of a whole one if I were to do this for a dinner party... since with the whole one you are going to have to go back in the kitchen to carve it, which defeats a lot of the point of this kind of meal. This will never be my "go to" chicken in a pot recipe because of the added hassles, but it does have a lot going for it presentation wise... worth trying.
Adapted from Around my French Table
- 1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed well
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and each cut into 8 same-sized pieces (you can use white potatoes, if you prefer)
- 16 small white onions, yellow onions, or shallots
- 8 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
- 4 celery stalks, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
- 4 garlic heads, cloves separated but not peeled
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 thyme sprigs
- 3 parsley sprigs
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- 1 chicken, about 4 pounds, preferably organic, whole or cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup hot water
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
- Slice the peel from the preserved lemon and dice it, discarding the pulp.
- Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, drop in the peel, and cook for 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat. In 2 or more batches, add the vegetables and garlic, season with salt and pepper and sauté until vegetables are brown on all sides. Spoon vegetables into a 4 and 1/2 quart or larger Dutch oven (or other large oven safe pot with a lid) and stir in the herbs and the preserved lemon.
- Return the skillet to the heat and add another tablespoon oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper and then brown it on both sides.
- Tuck chicken into the casserole, surrounding it with the vegetables.
- Mix together the broth, wine, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and pour over the chicken and vegetables.
- Put 1 and 1/2 cups flour in a medium bowl and add enough hot water to make a malleable dough. Dust a work surface with a little flour, turn out the dough, and, working with your hands, roll the dough into a sausage.
- Place the dough on the rim of the pot — if it breaks, just piece it back together — and press the lid onto the dough to seal the pot.
- Slide the pot into the oven and bake for 55 minutes.
- Use a screwdriver to break the lid off of the dough, and serve directly from the pot with crusty bread.