Poule Au Pot (Chicken in the Pot)

July 7, 2011

Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization.
~George Bernard Shaw

Yesterday was somewhat of a Breton train wreck at the Tour…some ten crashes, two riders out, a half dozen injured, and egos bruised. The peloton snaked through stingy ancient roads, then formed eschelons to evade the ever changing Atlantic winds that buffeted the riders as they approached a perilous finish.

Today, the pack licked their wounds and began their invasion of Normandie—a rolling 226 km conquest from the architecturally awesome Dinan to the idyllically Norman Lisieux. One long day in the saddle. With the exception of sprinters, discretion seemed to form the better part of valor on this stage. While braving heavy rain showers and even some hail, riders appeared more cautious and teams seemed to be conserving energy for the decisive mountain stages. Yet the ride was not without breakaways, drama and a scintillating dash to the finish.

Tomorrow, the race begins to turn south in a transitional stage, one of the flattest of the Tour. After that, the climbs become more somber, with several less than leisurely rides in the lofty Massif Central, before more menacing stuff unfolds in the sheer Pyrénées and the Alpes. There, men will be separated from boys.

For now, the Tour is in Normandie, home of sublime cream, butter, cider, veal, duck, offal, sausages, Calvados, Camembert, Livarot, and Pont-l’Évêque.

Poule au pot has a tradition that harkens back to the Middle Ages. Then, cooks used heavy cauldrons placed directly on open fires, either on the hearth or in the farm yard. They would cover everything and anything in water and let the whole meat and vegetable mix simmer for a long time. While poule au pot may have originated in the Béarn region in southwest France, birthplace of the bon vivant king Henri IV, it is typical Sunday country fare across France.

There are as many variations as there are kitchens, some stuffed (often with chopped giblets, Bayonne ham, bread) and others not (as below).

LA POULE AU POT A LA NORMANDE

1 – 4 lb chicken
Chicken broth and water, in equal parts

Bouquet garni (bundled parsley, thyme and bay leaf)
3 carrots, peeled, and cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
1/2 celeriac bulb, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
3 medium turnips, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
2 medium leeks, light green/whites, washed, cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
1 fennel bulb, cored, and cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
1/2 plump, fresh garlic head, separated into cloves with skins intact

1 C crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Fresh tarragon or sage leaves, chopped

Truss chicken and place into a Dutch oven. Cover with chicken broth and water and add bouquet garni, carrots, celeriac, turnips, leeks, fennel and garlic. Bring to a hearty boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 1 1/2 hours or so. Cook until chicken is tender and juices run pale yellow when pierced from the thigh. Transfer chicken to a cutting board, breast side down, and carefully transfer vegetables to a large bowl using a slotted spoon. Loosely tent both with aluminum foil. Discard bouquet garni.

Return pot to stove over medium high heat and bring stock to a vibrant boil. Cook until liquid has reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low, vigorously whisk in crème fraîche and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste.

Meanwhile, untruss chicken and cut into serving pieces. Ideally, the meat should almost fall from the bone but the pieces should remain firm, moist and tender.

Serve chicken over rice pilaf or couscous in shallow bowls with the vegetables…or with small new potatoes or noodles which have been simmered in the broth toward the end of the cooking cycle.

Spoon over crème fraîche sauce to your liking and garnish with fresh tarragon or sage.

Pourboire: Classic poule au pot is usually made without the addition of crème fraîche or cream. You be the boss.

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