Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Improvising French Cooking - Chicken with spring vegetables

Chicken with spring vegetables
Poulet aux légumes printaniers
The nice part about a familiar recipe is that you can walk into a grocery store, see the main ingredient, check if the others are available, and have a dish all planned out. If you want to do that with an unfamiliar recipe, you have to bring notes. I'm not good at that part.

A few days ago, looking at a chicken in a grocery store, I decided to try Françoise Bernard's recipe for pot-roasted chicken with spring vegetables (poulet aux légumes printaniers). I remembered some of the recipe. It's not like a can lug my copy of La Cuisine to the grocery store. When I set out to make it, I realized I had only dimly remembered the details. I only missed a couple of ingredients. What to do next was clear: improvise.

I recognized the similarities between this dish and Julia Child's chicken roasted with tarragon. Had I not done the stuffing, Child's recipe would have been just about as easy. Instead of roasting on a mirepoix, Bernard roasts on big pieces of vegetables. Not a big change.

The browned chicken
The browned chicken
My first change was in preparing the chicken. Bernard does not include a step that I am certain Julia Child would have done on reflex: she doesn't brown the chicken skin. The recipe also calls for 4 tablespoons of butter, but I've been using butter pretty liberally. Instead, after trussing the bird, I rubbed it with olive oil, added a little to the casserole, and browned the chicken. This was much easier with a bird that wasn't stuffed with duxelles. This time, I didn't rip the skin.

While the bird was browning, I finished off the vegetable prep. I shelled peas before dealing with the chicken, because I knew that shelling peas is a slow process. The rest were easily done along with the chicken. Trim the beans. Cut up a very large carrot. Chop up an onion.

After browning the bird, I tossed in a coarsely chopped-up onion. Bernard called for 10 small spring onions. I didn't have them. I let the pot cool a bit, then added carrots sliced into long pieces (Bernard's 1 bunch tender, young carrots, trimmed), green beens, and peas (fewer than she recommended, because I misremembered the quantity). Françoise Bernard does make this note:
The vegetable proportions can be changed according to your taste and the seasons.
You can play with this. It's a recipe, not a commandment.

It went into the oven. James was skeptical that the chicken would cook in a 300° oven in an hour and a quarter. I worried that the time in the oven would cook the chicken but doom the peas, and maybe the beans as well. The carrot would be fine.

When I pulled the chicken out, it was perfectly done. I removed the bird and removed the string used for trussing. I took the vegetables out, arranging them around the chicken. I should have let the chicken rest on it's own plate. What was I thinking?

The cooked vegetables
The cooked vegetables
Then it was time to make a sauce from the pan juices. Unlike Julia Child's recipe, there was no instruction to skim the pan juices, nor was there a need. In a very Julia Child move, the pan juices are thickened with a beurre manié. Got that covered.

In the end, it was a delicious dish of perfectly cooked chicken and vegetables. Not a lot of effort, and a wonderful result. This is a keeper. And now I think I understand the process of cooking chicken in a pot.

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