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In Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One, there are recipes that stretch for pages and pages, calling upon the reader to perform such extraordinary ingredient ministrations that few would have the patience to see them through. Julia’s poetic and instructional prose can make one woozy with equal parts delight and dread when making something as simple as a roasted chicken.
One of my favorite recipes to read (but not follow to the word) is Casserole-Roasted Chicken (pages 249-251). It is indeed a wonderful recipe, but one that requires a bit of editing to make it something the majority of home cooks would dare to try. The technique is elementary, but the sheer length of the instructions would intimidate most readers. One of my greatest pleasures as a recipe writer is to distill a beautiful, unwieldy recipe down to size, uncovering its true essence so more cooks have access to it. Casserole-Roasted Chicken presents just the right amount of challenge.
“It is a lovely method, as the buttery, aromatic steam in the casserole gives the chicken great tenderness and flavor,” says Julia in her headnote. Say no more. The gist of the recipe couldn’t be simpler: In a heavy-duty Dutch oven, brown a whole chicken (salt and peppered), on all sides, in hot fat. Set the chicken aside, add more butter to the pot and toss in an herb and aromatic vegetables (tarragon, carrots, onions). Place the browned chicken, breast side up, on top of the vegetables, cover, and roast in the oven until cooked through, about 1 hour. While the chicken rests, you make a gravy to serve it with.
Since that recipe spans three pages, I went to work playing the vegetables so that “buttery, aromatic steam” not only made a tender chicken, but also a pile of butter-braised vegetables (not just aromatics) to serve it with, and a sauce that magically creates itself in the bottom of the pot. When it comes out of the oven, it is truly a meal in a pot (like a prehistoric Instapot). Julia suggests serving “broiled tomatoes along with it for color” (I love how she thinks!), but you can also choose colorful vegetables for eye appeal.
After the chicken is browned on all sides, I add a combination of three different hearty vegetables to the pot (a magic culinary number): butternut squash, fennel, red onion (color!), purple or fingerling potatoes, carrots, parsnips, golden beets (stay away from red). I also add an herb: tarragon is classic French, but thyme or rosemary are winners too. Lastly, before covering the pot and popping it in the oven, I pour over 1/4 cup of white wine. That gets the sauce going, mingling with the butter, chicken juices, and sweet starches that ooze from the vegetables, creating a luscious gravy the likes of which Julia Child would surely, wholeheartedly approve.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 1 3 1/2-pound chicken, giblets removed, rinsed and dried with paper towel
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 pounds mixed vegetables (choose 3: fingerling or purple potatoes, parsnips, carrots, golden beets, butternut squash, fennel), cut in generous 3-inch pieces (so they don’t overcook)
- 1 medium red or yellow onion, peeled cut in 16 wedges through the root (so the wedges stay intact)
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, or tarragon
- 1/4 cup white wine