Every time I go to make poule au pot I always have the same daydream.
I feel French. I imagine myself somewhere in the countryside not far from Bordeaux, maybe near the town of Bergerac, sipping an Armagnac in a small art deco bar on a cool, damp, and overcast day.
After I finish my aperitif, I walk down the street to the farmers market where I buy a live chicken and work my way through aisles of beautiful vegetables. I pick up each turnip, bringing them to my nose, smelling wet dirt just before a mustardy heat reaches up and tingles my nostrils. The potatoes are gnarled and ugly -- some even have tine marks from the potato fork used to dig them this morning.
Well, I would probably reverse that. I would buy the chicken last so I wouldn’t have to walk around with the wings flapping everywhere, but you get the picture.
Nevertheless, whenever I have this dream I always want to do food better. Somehow this gets me thinking about building a vegetable cellar to get me through the dark months of winter. There is something satisfying in the thought of having fresh vegetables underneath the house, laying about waiting to be called into action at a moment's notice.
Stepping down the rough sawn oak stairs with a basket in the crook of my arm, acting like the basement is my personal greenmarket. Sorting through my hard summer's labor looking for just the right cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and onions, working my way down my ingredient list for what would surely be the most wonderful poule au pot.
I don’t know much about root cellars except what I have heard from my mother. As she tells it, neither her nor any of her sisters ever relished the thought of the inevitable mouse jumping out from behind the very potato they were reaching for. She would remind me that even with the best produce, you won’t be able to store them much past December before the vegetables, too, turn and go south for the winter.
Once I think about it for more than a moment I always ask myself: If a root cellar is so great, wouldn’t people who grow an abundance of vegetables still use them? Then I shake my head, wonder why I am even having this thought, and remind myself about Amy and mice and know it rules out any nostalgic notion I might have.
But I do like poule au pot, for that matter any boiled dinner, but specifically poule au pot because inevitably it does something very good for my soul.
I plan to take my time when choosing the vegetables for my poule au pot, making sure I pick out the best. I still have some wonderful cabbages, carrots, and onions from the garden, root cellar or not. I like to spend time and tourné vegetables, all because I want the food to feel important simply because it makes me happy to feel like I am really cooking.
Serves 4 to 6
For the stuffing:
1 cup oat groats
1 cup leeks, white part only and thinly slice into half moons
2 tablespoons curly leaf parsley
1/3 cup pancetta, minced
Kosher salt and pepper
For the chicken:
1 chicken, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds
2 yellow onions, peeled and quartered
4 leeks, white part only and trimmed
8 yukon gold potatoes
1 small head of green cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
2 celery hearts, root end trimmed but left intact
3 bay leaves
8 thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
Dipping sauce of your choice, my two favs are Pommery mustard for the chicken and butter for the veggies
Photos by Tom Hirschfeld