I love chicken pot-roast. Almost any kind of it. But to me this one is as wholesome and life-affirming as a walk in a blue-bell wood. Also as simple to appreciate and rare to find…
I love the earthy smell of the chicken combined with the aniseed taste of tarragon and none better than Elizabeth David can give an English twist to a very French recipe. I used her recipe from French provincial cooking.
One plump chicken
Tarragon leaves, chopped (one handful)
Garlic 1/2 clove
salt and pepper
Clean and pat your chicken dry than rub it all over with olive oil.
Knead the chunk of butter with the pressed garlic, the tarragon leaves, salt and pepper until it forms a smooth ball that you can then insert into the chicken, the natural way.
Put it in a cast iron skillet and roast in the oven for 45 min. Turning at half-time. When the bird is cooked, remove from the oven and pour a glass of brandy over it while trying to crack a match: This proved difficult but a good laugh and a few matches later we almost succeeded… Almost “flambé”.
Apparently, according to the recipe, heating the brandy first in a ladle guaranties success. Noted.
Return the bird to a low oven for a good 5 to 10 minutes. At this point you can add a good spoonful of crème fraîche to get a longer and fuller sauce. Serve hot but please not with this dry boiled rice in neat, flavourless cone-shaped fashion that people associate with any chicken in cream sauce: This is to my palate the most useless “garniture” both sides of the Channel. A fresh, crisp lettuce salad will do much better. Especially if you add more chopped tarragon into it!
This is for me the ultimate nursery food: a comforting dish, oozing butter and cream with the hidden treasure of a soft, nourishing yolk in the middle!
Choose duck eggs for a change, they are lovely at the moment. This couple of ducks were shot in the Wetland Centre in Barnes: A great place for ducks and birds of all feathers but get your eggs from elsewhere.
Tonight I am using Elizabeth David recipe found in “French country cooking”, first published in 1951. The result was as delicious as I recalled… The traditional recipe includes ham so I added that in for memories sake. For a bigger egg (and more yolk to dip the bread in!), I used large duck eggs. I fantasise one day of using one single goose egg to make one big “oeuf cocotte” in a large soufflé dish, for example. But usually, some Le creuset terracotta ramequins are better suited though and give each guest a lovely individual dish to delve into… Elizabeth David talks of “little fireproof china dishes”, but you can be creative and use any small pot so long as it goes into the oven.
Ingredients list: Quantities for one
1 duck egg per person
1 spoonful of butter
1 spoonful of cream
1 thick slice of cooked ham
Cut a rough circle of ham and put it at the bottom of the dish. Heat the oven to fairly hot and put a blob of butter on top of the ham. Leave the dish in the oven until the butter has melted. Then crack an egg in each dish and cover with a good spoonful of cream. Leave to cook for 5 to 8 min. or until the white is set and the yolk still runny. Do not overcook or the dish is ruined! Simple but crucial.
Serve hot with a pinch of chopped tarragon and some cracked pepper. Some buttered olive bread from Chez Paul tonight made a welcome contribution to help us enjoy the hidden treasure inside the cream. I used to like my oeuf cocotte with plain soldiers but this is a matter of taste. This is regressive, comforting food if there was any – so no rules but family tradition must prevail!