Photo by Judith Hausman
My mom calls it stewed chicken. As humble as that sounds, King Henry IV (1553-1610) would have been proud if every Frenchman had become prosperous enough to relish a chicken in a pot every Sunday. Late in winter, when the sun has finally made some progress on the snow drifts, I still like an almost ceremonial comfort food dinner like this.
Chicken is lighter than the beef and lamb I gravitate to in the cold, but the dish still makes use of the winter vegetables I can find at the farmers’ market. A definite plus is that the chicken can be set up in a slow cooker and left while you take a walk in the park. To fit it in the crock pot might mean cutting up the chicken into parts, but that’s OK too.
“Poule au pot” is such as homey dish that, of course, the recipes vary enormously. In the past, one could buy ”fowl” — that is, an older hen, sometimes a retired layer, which was flavorful and perfect for long cooking. I don’t have access to chickens like that, even though I buy mine from a local farm, but you might. Start with a really good local chicken in any case, somewhere between 4 and 6 pounds.
Some recipes then call for browning the whole damn chicken in fat (bacon in some recipes) before adding the liquid. Some use the chicken livers or ham in the stuffing or no stuffing at all (mom’s version). In my opinion, it’s worth the trouble to stuff it because the stuffing cooks up kind of like a giant dumpling, steeped with the flavors of the chicken. Use any basic bread stuffing recipe you like, just make an egg part of it.
For the stew vegetables, some cooks stick to carrots and onions, but others add turnips, parsnips, leeks, potatoes or cabbage. To be really stylish and finicky, tie up or wrap the braising vegetables and aromatics so that they stay neat for serving and the spices can easily be retrieved. Tie the leeks with kitchen string and the herbs into cheesecloth if you want. Or don’t. You can just strain the broth, carefully lift out the veggies and place them around the chicken on a platter. The clear broth is traditionally served separately to begin the meal but you don’t have to do that either. You can serve portions of the chicken in deep bowls with the broth ladled around it.
Recipe: Poule au Pot
- 1 recipe of your favorite bread stuffing
- 1 4- to 6-pound whole chicken, innards removed
- 3 to 5 carrots, clean and whole
- 1 medium onion, peeled but whole, and stuck with one clove
- 1 to 2 celery stalks, clean and whole
- 1 to 2 leeks, clean and whole
- 3 to 5 small turnips, peeled and halved
- thyme leaves, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt to taste
- fresh parsley and fresh sage, chopped for garnish
Open and stuff the chicken, clipping the cavity closed or at least tying together the legs with kitchen twine. Place the whole chicken carefully into a deep pot and position the vegetables around it. Add water to cover about 3/4 of the chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook gently (adding more water if necessary) for about 2 hours or until the leg meat falls off the bone. Skim off the gray foam that will form as the chicken cooks.
Remove the vegetables to a platter with a slotted spoon. Transfer the chicken for slicing, and salt and reduce the broth somewhat before serving. Broth can be served separately or around the chicken.
Serve with a simple green salad and bread, potatoes, cooked grain or pasta.
Serves 4 to 6.
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.