A COVERED POT IS A SURPRISINGLY GOOD PLACE TO ROAST A BIRD
Led by their presidential candidate, Herbert Hoover, Republicans promised to put “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” during the campaign of 1928. The stock market crash a year later and the ensuing decade of economic hardship forever made Americans skeptical about claims surrounding chickens and pots. That’s a shame because we are missing out on one of the best dishes in the French repertoire, poulet en cocotte.
Despite what you might first think, poulet en cocotte isn’t a braise or a stew. No, the whole bird is roasted in a heavy covered pot with no added liquid. And unlike so many dishes from France, this one is simple. There might be an aromatic vegetable or two as well as a sprig of fresh herb in the pot, but that’s it. The idea is to capture the natural juices exuded by the bird—the juices that evaporate when an open roasting pan is used—and produce meat that is unbelievable tender and succulent and very, very flavorful.
A warning here : This recipe isn’t for cooks (or diners) who prize crisp skin above all else. The skin renders and is certainly pleasant enough to eat, but this recipe doesn’t employ enough heat to make it crisp. But that’s fine by us. We think it makes more sense to choose a low-temperature cooking method that prioritizes the meat instead. Heck, many people don’t even eat the skin anymore.
One final selling point : As the bird cooks, it creates an intense jus—think essence of chicken—that becomes a fuss-free sauce. Simplicity and perfection—those are two campaign promises we can all get behind.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
When chicken is browned, it’s often to crisp the skin. However, in this recipe, the chicken is browned on the stovetop to build fond on the bottom of the pot. This fond deepens the flavor of the jus that will be served with the chicken. The back side of the chicken browns for a few extra minutes because dark meat takes longer to cook. Caramelizing the small amount of onion, celery, and garlic in the pot wicks away their moisture and adds both rich color and flavor.
Cover with Foil
Placing a sheet of aluminum foil over the pot before covering it with the lid creates the tightest possible seal and prevents any steam from escaping. Every drop of chicken flavor remains in the pot.
Cook Low and Slow
A chicken cooked in a covered pot with no added liquid is essentially a “dry” braise. The juices are drawn from the chicken into the pot where they create moist heat, so that the meat cooks gently, in effect braising in its own juices. Cooking at a really low temperature, 250 degrees, helps to retain moisture and intensifies the flavors of the meat; many of juices that come out of the chicken go right back into it. The rest are trapped in the pot and become the sauce.
Cook Breast Up
Arranging the chicken breast side up allows the dark meat to rest on the bottom of the pot, where heat transfer is best; combined with its extra browning time, this enables the dark meat to cook faster than the white meat, so that both reach the proper temperature at the same time.
Rest and Strain
To maximize moisture retention, it is important to let the chicken rest before carving. While it rests, strain the concentrated liquid from the pot to yield a smooth and intensely flavored jus.
“Pot-roasted” chicken begins on the stovetop and ends under a foil tent on a carving board.
French Chicken in a Pot
- 15 minutes to prep and brown chicken on stovetop
- 80 minutes to 110 minutes to cook chicken in oven
- 25 minutes to rest and carve chicken (use this time to prepare sauce)
- Dutch oven (at least 6 quarts) with lid
- Wooden spoon to flip chicken as it browns
- Aluminum foil to cover pot under lid
Substitutions & Variations
- A slightly smaller or larger chicken can be used (provided the bird still fits in your pot). Although you don’t need to change the amounts of the other ingredients, the cooking time will likely fall outside the range listed in the recipe.
- As long as you don’t put too much stuff in the pot, you can try this technique with other flavorings, including herbs, citrus zest, or shallots. Some simple ideas:
- For a stronger garlic flavor, increase the number of cloves to twelve.
- Replace the rosemary with two thyme sprigs.
- Replace the celery and rosemary with 4 ounces diced shiitake mushrooms and 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger. Finish the pan sauce with rice wine vinegar and soy sauce to taste.
If you choose not to serve the skin with the chicken, simply remove it before carving. The amount of jus will vary depending on the size of the chicken; season it with about ¼ teaspoon lemon juice for every ¼ cup.
- 1 (4½- to 5-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 small celery rib, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
- ½–1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels, tuck wings behind back, and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add chicken breast side down and scatter onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary sprig, if using, around chicken. Cook until breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using wooden spoon inserted into cavity of chicken, flip chicken breast side up and cook until chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Off heat, place large sheet of aluminum foil over pot and cover tightly with lid. Transfer pot to oven and cook chicken until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 50 minutes.
- Transfer chicken to carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain chicken juices from pot through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator, pressing on solids to extract liquid; discard solids. Let juices settle for 5 minutes, then pour into small saucepan and set over low heat. Carve chicken, adding any accumulated juices to saucepan. Season sauce with lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve chicken, passing sauce separately.
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