A beautiful, classic, multi-step chicken recipe that is moist, tasty and served with a delightful reduction sauce. The steps themselves are easy and yields an amazing dinner.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking is more than a cookbook, it’s an experience. The authors wrote this book in a narrative form, as if they are right there beside you, teaching you how to cook French cuisine. It is very much for beginners and seasoned cooks alike, despite the lofty goal of the title.
This recipe in particular reminds me of the movie Julie and Julia, where the main character sets a high goal for herself by cooking every recipe in this book over the course of a year. A neurotic big city professional, whose job eats away at her soul is slowly and beautifully transformed by this book and her quest. At the end of the year she is a better person with a renewed appreciation for the joy of living. She has some catastrophic episodes where the meal seems doomed only to realize there is always a bigger picture, the end of the World is not at hand.
My start on this recipe seemed doomed as Julia warns me to be careful not to “break the skin”. That bar was set a little too high for me as you can see below. I was hoping for a perfect chicken dinner at the end of this recipe, with perfect skin and perfect seasoning. What I got instead was the knowledge that there is more than one way to cook a chicken as I ate my absolutely delicious dinner with amazing sauce, happy with the compliments that ensued by my dinner guest, my husband. There is barely enough skin left on the bird to be recognizable but despite my best efforts to destroy dinner, the chicken turned out fabulous! I know, I KNOW! How?! Maybe it’s because this multi-step process created many layers of flavor you just can’t develop by taking shortcuts or making a ‘weeknight’ or ‘easy’ meal. Maybe it’s because even though I broke the chicken skin rule, I devoted myself to finishing this recipe the best I could with my certain set of kitchen skills, which I am still developing, probably like yourself. Or maybe because it’s just really hard to ruin a chicken, unless of course you cook it too long or burn it. I don’t know. I do know that your cooking doesn’t have to be perfect in order to enjoy great food. This was a successful misadventure.
Poulet Poele A L’Estragon means Casserole Roasted Chicken with Tarragon in French. It is a classic way to cook a chicken. The multistep process yields a beautiful sauce that has many layers of flavor and depth, and is really hard to mess up. The chicken turns out full of flavor and is moist, not dry. I will definitely do this recipe again some day.
This recipe is adapted from the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 . The original recipe is very detailed and narrative. I simplified the directions for the sake of the recipe card below. I generalized how much tarragon and butter used in this recipe because it will depend on how your cooking is coming along. If your fond oil is burnt for example, you pour it off and add fresh butter. If in doubt, just add a pat of butter and you can’t go wrong. The original recipe is perfect in every way.
A note about fond
A fond is what is left in a pan or pot when meat is seared, a result of the Maillard reaction, first described in 1912 by a French chemist of the same name. It is a reaction between amino acids and carbohydrates in food when suddenly exposed to high heat. The fond is very flavorful and recipes that call for developing the fond is not an attempt to ‘seal in juices’ in meat like what is commonly believed but rather an important step for developing flavor in the dish. Deglazing is what is done next in order to make amazing sauces. Deglazing can be done with water, broth, wine, beer etc., just about anything except dairy which might curdle over high heat. Developing fond and deglazing are classic French techniques that have widely adapted to western cuisines.
Enjoy and let us know if you ‘broke the skin’.
- 3-4 lb roasting chicken
- salt and pepper
- A lot of salted butter
- 6 sprigs fresh tarragon or 1 Tbs dried, divided
- vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup white onion, sliced
- 1/4 cup sliced carrots
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 1 Tbs cornstarch
- 2 Tbs red wine or sherry
- Preheat oven to 325F.
- Rinse and dry your chicken with paper towels. Season the inside cavity with salt, pepper, 2 sprigs of tarragon and 2 Tbs butter.
- After drying the skin thoroughly with paper towels, rub 2 Tbs of butter on it.
- Add 2-3 Tbs oil and 1 Tbs butter to oven-safe dutch oven and heat over medium-high on the stove. Add chicken, breast side down to brown skin, turning after 3 minutes or so, turn on all sides to brown skin and develop a nice fond on the bottom of the dutch oven, being ever so careful not to tear the skin. I used two wooden spoons, one I stuck in the cavity.
- After all sides are browned, remove chicken and set aside. If the oil/butter in the pan is burnt, drain off and add 2 Tbs of fresh butter and reduce heat to medium. Add onions, carrots and 2 sprigs of tarragon, cooking slowly to wilt and not brown. Season with salt.
- Place chicken back in dutch oven, over vegetables, breast side up. Season with a little more salt.
- Place aluminum foil over chicken and then the lid. My lid is not oven proof so I put foil over chicken snuggly then another piece over the pot in place of the lid.
- Bake in oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until juices run clear or meat thermometer reads 165F.
- Remove chicken from dutch oven and discard vegetables by skimming.
- Drain off all but about 1 cup of cooking liquid left in the pot.
- Heat dutch oven on stove over medium-high heat, add chicken stock and 2 sprigs of tarragon (chopped) scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to remove any fond left.
- Make a slurry with cornstarch, wine/sherry and stock from the pot before it gets hot, stir well to dissolve corn starch, add back to pot. Simmer and reduce sauce until a nice thick sauce develops. Serve over chicken. Garnish with tarragon or parsley.