Thinking of France and chickens

I lived in Paris for about seven months in 2005, and I miss that city, and France, especially when I am shopping for food. For most of my time there during that year I lived in the 10th, near the fine old Marché Saint-Quentin. It was built in 1866, and is a lovely covered market with lots of glass and iron. And it is full of great produce and fish and cheese and meat and poultry of all sorts.

A good place to shop: Le marché Saint-Quentin, in Paris' 10th.

A good place to shop: Le marché Saint-Quentin, in Paris' 10th.

I shopped there three or four times a week, and most weeks bought a chicken, usually from the same woman, because hers seemed the freshest. Indeed, some of them had been killed the night before I cooked them. I bought them with the feet and heads still on, and appreciated their organic wholeness.

Most of the time I roasted them, which I am confident is the best way to cook a chicken, though fried chicken is a close second. Every now and then, though, I liked to poach a bird in cream, lots of cream. Two quarts, to be exact. Two quarts of fresh light cream, cream that tasted better than any milkshake I have ever had, and I imagined it coming from the most perfect dairy cow in France.

I’ve forgotten where I first saw a recipe for this dish, but it is an age-old technique, and many of you have undoubtedly poached chicken breasts before. One recipe I used recently as a foundation comes from Daniel Young’s “The Bistros, Brasseries, and Wine Bars of Paris.” I brined the bird when I made it this week, eight hours in a water/salt/sugar/black peppercorn solution.

Chicken brining in a plastic bag.

Chicken brining in a plastic bag.

Here’s how you do it:

Rinse the chicken inside and out with cool water and pat dry. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, then season liberally inside and out with salt and pepper. While the chicken is waiting, heat two cups of chicken stock (you can use bouillon cubes) and heat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit. 

Carrots, onions, and celery, and a chicken

Carrots, onions, and celery, and a chicken

 

 

 

 

Peel two carrots and cut them in half; do the same to two onions and two turnips. To these, add the white part of one leek. I also like to use two stalks of celery, cut in half. (You can peel the celery if you want.) Put the chicken in a Dutch oven and then pour in the stock and the cream and add the vegetables to the mix. Heat on the stovetop over moderately high heat until just below boil. Put the lid on the mixture and put it in the oven for about two hours.

It's a bird surrounded by cream and vegetables – what's not to like?

It's a bird surrounded by cream and vegetables – what's not to like?

Remove the chicken and vegetables from the Dutch oven and keep warm; pour two to three cups of the cream mixture through a fine sieve into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking the sauce until it thickens, for five minutes or so. 

Arrange the chicken and vegetable on a platter and pour as much of the sauce over them as you wish. I like to get a leg and breast on my plate, and the carrots and onions take on a flavor that will make you want to double the quantity of them next time you make this. (A final note: it is best to use a large chicken here, say, five pounds, but a bird of that size is difficult to find in many places, so if you use a smaller bird, just reduce the amount of cream.)

It really is very simple, and what results is chicken reminiscent of what you get when you make Chicken and Dumplings – moist and rich. And the sauce will have you thinking of milkshakes. I drank a Côtes de Duras blanc with the dish this week.