It is no secret that a good roast chicken is one of my favourite things. I smear chickens in butter and roast them. I soak them in buckets of brine and then roast them. But in the depths of winter I love nothing more than to pot roast them.
A pot-roasted chicken will never give you the crisp salty skin a dry roast can, but the succulence of the flesh and the sheer ease both in cooking and washing up definitely makes this a winner, winner, chicken dinner.
The premise is alarmingly simple. The bird is sealed on all sides in butter and oil until golden, and then it is joined in the pot by all the root vegetables and some flavour enhancers. I like to add a little bacon and some prunes and thyme. White wine and stock are added, the lid goes on and into the oven it goes. An hour and a bit later, a great deal of magic has happened, and a one-pot wonder has emerged.
This technique is used widely in French cuisine and was championed by Julia Child, who renamed it the casserole pot roast for the American cook of the 1960s. As with many “casseroles”, the flavours can be changed to suit different moods and tastes. In my version here, I throw together the flavour profiles of cock-a-leekie soup. Another delicious combination would be to season the chicken with a little smoked paprika and salt before sealing off the flesh, then add shallots, peppers and some chorizo with the potatoes, and use a dry sherry instead of the white wine.
Cooking poultry in a sealed pot in an oven is an age-old practice that is found in most cuisines of the world. The sealed container holds the moisture both in the flesh and the vessel, creating moist meat and an unctuous sauce. If you enjoy the results of this dish, may I suggest that you go one step further and cook chicken by a method referred to as poêling. This is a classic, yet somewhat forgotten, French technique for cooking poultry. It involves seasoning the bird inside and out, and then smearing it with butter, both inside and out. The bird is placed in a Dutch oven on a matignon – that is, some chopped onion, carrot, a little bacon, tarragon and thyme – and then covered and roasted like a pot roast. Every 20 minutes or so, baste the bird with juices from the pot. Follow the same procedure of removing the lid to brown the bird in the final stages of cooking. It is a “naughtier” version of the stock-based recipe listed here.
I love pot-roasting chicken on a cold night – it screams comfort and nurturing. The vegetables soak up the flavour of the chicken and the chicken is enhanced by the vegetables. It’s healthy, easy and really delicious. And don’t forget to mop up the resulting cooking liquor with some good bread.
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 40g butter
– salt and pepper
– 1 roasting chicken, size 18
– 2 sprigs thyme
– 1 bunch Dutch carrots
– 8 baby potatoes
– 1 bunch baby leeks
– 8 pitted prunes
– 100g kaiserfleisch, cut into thin slices
– 150ml white wine
– 300ml chicken stock
– chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Place the base of a heavy-duty Dutch oven on the stovetop over high heat. Add the oil and butter. Season the bird liberally with salt and pepper, place breast-side down in the hot pan, cook until golden brown, then turn. Continue turning until the whole bird has been sealed and is golden brown. Remove from the heat.
Wash all the vegetables. Position the chicken in the middle of the pot and arrange the thyme, vegetables, prunes and kaiserfleisch around it. Pour in the wine and the stock, return the pot to the heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat, fit with a tight lid and place in the oven for one hour and 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and release any steam before carefully removing the lid. Turn the oven to 200ºC and return the pot to the oven, uncovered, to colour the chicken a little more (about 15 minutes).
This recipe can be served straight from the pot, carefully portioning the chicken and sharing the vegetables around and ladling over the cooking juices. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with lightly boiled greens or a crisp green salad.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 4, 2020 as "Pot of gold".
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