comfort en cocotte

We had “Sunday dinner” tonight, one day late. I had meant it for yesterday, but a tempting invitation from friends to come over and eat chocolate cake all afternoon kept me away. Poor poor me.

It’s officially cold here, in the southern shadow of Lake Ontario. Upon her winds came a rollicking afternoon blizzard yesterday, and with them a reminder of simple, cozy meals. I am pretty sure my need for comfort food rises proportionately to the fall of the mercury. And so tonight, roast chicken.

I bought this lovely little 3 ½ pound roasting chicken at the farmer’s market last weekend from Wendy of Sweet Grass Farm just outside of Syracuse. She kindly explained to me (a long-time pseudo wannabee mostly vegetarian) the difference between broiler and stewing chickens and found a small broiler for us. Two days later my Jan-Feb Cook’s Illustrated arrived at my door boasting Chicken in a Pot—French Method, Juiciest Bird. A happy coincidence, no?

chicken in a pot

This experience deserved a post for two reasons. One, because it is our first local and grass-fed chicken. When you don’t buy a lot of meat, you can splurge on something that is especially good for you and for the earth. (Click to learn more about local and grass-fed meat.)

Two, it’s only my second time trying a famed Cook’s Illustrated recipe. The people at this magazine (aka America’s Test Kitchen) take cooking very seriously, approaching recipes like science experiments. Having been burried in the humanities for years, I figured they could teach me how to turn a special bird into dinner. As I read through two pages of how the author perfected this simple French delicacy, poulet en cocotte, my mouth watered at promises of “succulent meat” and “unforgettable flavour.”

Cooking chicken in a covered pot in its own juices forgoes the KFC-esque obsession with crispy skin for even more tender meat. Since I usually avoid eating more than a wee bite of skin anyway, I thought I’d give this “focus on the meat” method a try. As the author says, it “will never place first in a beauty contest” but is always first in flavour and juiciness.

Delivered up on a plate with a wild-rice blend pilaf (with toasted almonds and cranberries), steamed broccoli and boiled beets, I almost put my head out into the frigid air and said bring it on, winter.

Poulet en Cocotte

serves 4


1 whole roasting chicken (4 1/2 to 5 pounds), giblets removed and discarded, wings tucked under back
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped medium
1 small celery stalk, chopped medium
6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed
1 bay leaf
1 medium sprig fresh rosemary
1/2-1 teaspoon lemon juice


1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven (we used an oven safe stock pot as we don’t own a DO), over medium heat until just smoking. Add chicken, breast-side down; scatter onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary around chicken. Cook until breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Insert a wooden spoon into cavity of bird, flip chicken breast-side up and cook until chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6-8 more minutes. Remove from heat, place large sheet of foil over pot and cover tightly with lid. Transfer pot to oven and cook until instant-read thermometer reads 160 degrees when inserted into thickest part of breast and 175 in thickest part of thigh, 80-110 minutes.

2. Transfer chicken to carving boards, tent with foil, and rest 15 minutes. Meanwhile, strain chicken juices from pot through fine mesh strainer into fat separator. Discard solids. Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then pour into saucepan and set over low heat. Carve chicken, adding any accumulated juices to saucepan. Stir in lemon juice. Serve chicken, passing the jus at the table.

courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated, Jan-Feb 2008