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. —Jennifer Clair
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
- Serves 4
extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
3 1/2-pound chicken, giblets removed, rinsed and dried with paper towel
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)
medium red or yellow onion, peeled cut in 16 wedges through the root (so the wedges stay intact)
chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, or tarragon
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. In a large Dutch oven with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken all over (not inside) with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken on 3 sides (breasts and 2 leg/thigh sections) until browned all over, about 15 minutes total. Use tongs and a wooden spoon anchored in the cavity to turn it easily onto each side (you can prop it up against the side of the pot so it doesn’t tip over when you are browning the leg/thigh sections).
- Remove the chicken from the pot and transfer to large bowl. Turn off the heat under the pot and add the butter, swirling until it melts. Add the vegetables, onion wedges, and herbs. Toss, coating the vegetables with the butter. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss again. Move the vegetables to the sides of the pot, making room for the chicken. Place the browned chicken on top, breast side up. Pour over 1/4 cup white wine, cover pot with the lid, and transfer the pot to the oven. Roast until an instant-read thermometer registers 165° when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, about 1 hour.
- Carve the chicken in the pot or transfer to a cutting board to carve more elegantly. Serve with the braised vegetables and sauce on the side.