In February, I received a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s delightful Around My French Table. Talk about infatuation! I was immediately taken with a photograph of a chicken in a pot that appeared to be rimmed with dark but fresh baked bread. It didn’t take long to go from recipe to reality. Since receiving the book, I have made variations of the dish about six times. Six times, the dish has never failed. It’s a treat both in terms of presentation and taste. You bring a single, large enamelled cast iron dutch oven to the table, you use a screwdriver to crack at the rim of dough that has created a tight seal between lid and pot, and then a wine-and-garlic infused steam shoots forth. The stew inside looks and tastes as absolutely fantastic as the presentation itself. This dish may require a bit more effort in the making (at least for me, because I have to be in exactly the right mood to peel carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes!) but it’s thoroughly worth the effort.
Of course, there are as many versions of Chicken-in-a-Pot out there by Greenspan herself as there are inspired homages. I love that the recipe in Greenspan’s book (pp 206-8) as well as her own versions in The Wall Street Journal and on her website suggest that you make your own variations according to what you have in the pantry and what’s in season. To be quite honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really stuck to Greenspan’s original specifications in any of my attempts to make the dish. Most significantly, our sole piece of enamelled cast-iron is a 6.4 L Le Creuset Oval French Oven, which is a few litres larger than the pot called for in the recipe. We always need to fiddle with the portions in order to fill up our larger pot. Then, who wouldn’t want to fill it up? Even if you’re only cooking for a small family or for yourself and yourself alone, you are going to want these leftovers. You are going to court them. You may even consider making “MINE” labels to stick on the container of leftovers in the fridge – even in your super-chic bachelor pad or studio apartment! Also, we’ve become huge parsnip fans and lovers of the purple potato, too. So, we incorporate plenty of those chez nous.
Below, you’ll find our Resurrection Chicken, our own adaptation of Greenspan’s chicken to suit the size of our pot and the size of our family…or, at least, the size of our family’s heroic weekend appetites… The dish also indulges our taste for autumn root vegetables, most particularly, parsnips and tiny purple potatoes.
A Note about Preserved Lemons: You might have to shop around for these. We picked up a jar of Mourad’s Moroccan with the remainder of a special gift-card from Williams Sonoma [note: the in-st0re price was lower]. I’ve also had good luck finding them in Kensington Market, here in Toronto, although I’ve forgotten the exact retailer. A good spice purveyor will also likely set you straight. If you are planning ahead of time, you can also make your own Preserved Lemons. David Lebovitz has a well-constructed little recipe here. In a pinch, of course, you can just scrub a fresh lemon, divide it into eighths, remove the seeds, salt them a little [if desired], and brown them with the vegetables on the skillet before adding them to the pot. They’ll be easy to spot and remove upon serving.
- 4-6 quarters/slices of preserved lemon rinsed
- 8-12 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium sweet potatoes sliced into 1.5-inch chunks
- 1 [1.5 lb] bag purple ruby gem or golden baby potatoes, the larger ones sliced in half
- 7-10 shallots [we used one 250g/8.8oz net bag] trimmed and peeled, the larger ones sliced in half
- 1 large sweet onions peeled and divided into twelfths
- 4 small carrots trimmed peeled and sliced into fourths
- 4 medium parsnips trimmed, peeled and sliced into sixths
- 3 celery stalks well-trimmed, and sliced into eighths
- 3-4 heads of garlic cloves separated and peeled, or 25-40 cloves [you might look for pre-peeled, separated garlic at the vegetable market]
- salt and pepper
- 4 sprigs each fresh thyme parsley, rosemary
- 4-6 large leaves of fresh sage [optional]
- 8 chicken thighs
- 6-8 small chicken legs
- 3 c chicken broth
- 2 c white wine [we used Coyote's Run 2010 Black Paw Vineyard Chardonnay - a fresh case of Coyote's Run is on my Christmas list!]
- 1-3 shots cognac [Optional]
- about 2/3 bag pre-made supermarket pizza dough [or 2 c flour 1 c hot water made into a workable dough by adding, to the flour, water by the tablespoon]
- A long and lovely loaf of french bread torn into large chunks for dipping [Optional]
- Preheat the oven to 450, with the rack in the next-to-lowest position.
- Slice all of the preserved lemon into 1/2-in dice.
- Using 1 or 2 large skillets, heat 2 tbs of oil [in each skillet].
- Sauté about half of the vegetables and garlic until the vegetables begin to brown on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.
- You may need to do this in 3-4 batches!
- Add 3/4 - 5/6 of the browned vegetables to a 6.4 litre or 6 3/4 quart enamelled cast iron or other Dutch oven.
- Toss in most of the herbs and all of the preserved lemon.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Add 1 tbs of oil to [each of your] skillet[s] and brown the chicken on all sides.
- You may need to do this in 3-4 batches!
- Add the chicken to the pot, bedding it down gently in the vegetables.
- Add the remainder of the vegetables and herbs to the pot.
- Add chicken broth, wine, and [optional] cognac.
- Take two large pieces of pizza dough and roll them into long, thick ropes, each a bit more than 1/2 the circumference of the pot.
- Place the thick ropes of dough around the top edge of the pot, overlapping a bit near the handles.
- Place the lid on the top of the pot and press firmly to seal.
- Make sure the lid is completely rimmed and completely sealed with dough.
- If necessary, add more bits of dough around the rim to get rid of any holes.
- Bake for 60-70 minutes.
- It's alright if the dough gets very deep brown or almost burnt looking!
- If you have left-over shop-made pizza dough, roll it out into flatbreads and cook on a pan or pizza stone at the very top or bottom of the oven. Although, now might be the time to enjoy a sip of tea or a glass of that wine you opened to put in the dish.
- After removing the pot from the oven, let it rest for at least 5-10 minutes on the counter, or until you are ready to serve.
- Bring the hot dutch oven to the table.
- Use a flat screwdriver or knife to chip away at the seal.
- Crumbs will fly everywhere! What excitement! The little coffer will be opened!
- Compost all of the the burnt dough bits.
- If you choose to consume other parts of the dough rim, be sure that the spongier ones from inside of the pot are cooked through.
- Serve your guests from the pot or invite them to serve themselves - that is, if you have any guests.
- We like to just have everyone dip their bread into the big pot after it's cooled for a while.