Sunday it was time again for me to cook something from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This being the second time I was to cook one of her recipes I was slightly better prepared. This time I decided to prepare a chicken dish, a dish that I thought would be rather straightforward. But like all things Julia Child, nothing is ever that simple.
Saturday morning was spent searching the pages of the French Cooking Bible. I was looking for a chicken recipe that would not take me two days to prepare like the Boeuf À la Monde I cooked last month. After pawing over a few recipes I finally committed myself to the Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme. The choice was in part because our pantry was stocked with all the spices and herbs I would need and the only ingredients I had to buy was the chicken, baby potatoes and small onions. The dish would take 2 hours to prepare and the only thing that seemed complicated was the trussing of the chicken – something I had never done before.
Sunday morning the chicken was taken out from the fridge and washed thoroughly. I’m not sure why I had to do that, as the chicken looked pretty clean, but hey if Julia tells you to do something it’s best not to argue. After bathing the hen she was towel dried and left to reach room temperature. Apparently I become quite moody with the onset of each Julia recipe I cook, as hubby and I had a small argument about work space in the kitchen – a silly argument now that I think about it. By noon I was ready to start the dish and my nerves was calmed with a chilled glass of Durbanville Hills Chardonnay 2008. Never attempt a Julia recipe without it!
By means of some liquid courage and Julia’s detailed instructions for trussing a chicken I was ready to bondage the hen. With a large needle and string I approached the unsuspecting chicken with caution. There is something quite macabre about trussing a chicken, and for someone who can’t even sew a button onto a shirt I am proud to say that I managed to successfully complete this gory task. However, one thing I learned is that knowing the anatomy of your project is most definitely recommended as it took me a good 8 minutes to locate the correct second joint of the drumstick. I also learned a funny new trick and that’s to tie the chicken wings akimbo for which there was no illustration in the book (thank you Julia) and I had to Google it!
With the chicken tied and sewn up, I was ready to proceed. Peeling 15 small onions is not fun! There are many old wife tails on how to peel onions without crying and none of them works. Believe me I tried them all and by the time I reached my tenth onion I made peace with my tearing eyes and runny nose. With the onions peeled and boiling away I had ten minutes to peel 25 baby potatoes. Needles to say it took me more than 10 minutes and I learned the hard way why it’s important to use a blunt potato peeler.
Potatoes and onions prepared all that was left was to lightly brown the bacon and chicken. This is the part where cardiologists all over the world will have heart attacks. Julia Child was once quoted as saying “butter makes anything taste better” and she wasn’t kidding. The amount of butter that she suggested I add to the dish had my arteries clot up even before tasting anything. But once again I didn’t argue and added all the butter against my better judgement.
As I was assembling the dish for the oven I realized that nowhere in the recipe did Julia mention anything about adding any stock to the casserole. This made me a tad worried as I couldn’t help but wonder whether the chicken would be dry. With the hen, potatoes, onions, herbs and spices in the casserole I added the last few tablespoons of high blood pressure and heart attacks and then did something that could piss Julia off. I added garlic. This was not part of the recipe, but no French dish is complete without garlic. As I added it I silently prayed that it wouldn’t screw up the dish and that Julia would forgive me.
With the dish assembled I placed it into the oven to cook away for 1 hour and twenty minutes. Half way through I basted the chicken once and the aromas that filled the kitchen was both delicious and comforting. When the oven sounded that the Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme was ready I rushed to the kitchen very excited to see the end result. There is a sense of accomplishment when you take the lid of a casserole and catch your first glimpse and whiff of a successfully completed master piece.
Naturally as I placed the chicken, potatoes, onions and bacon on the serving plate I did wonder whether it looked anything like Julia’s and what she would say about my attempt and the garlic. Proudly bringing the meal to the dinner table hubby was wowed and a photo was promptly taken of it to add to my Julia Child album. The meal was scrumptious and I did feel slightly guilty for not inviting guests over for lunch. This is a dish I will definitely cook again and share with friends.
My confidence is slowly improving when it comes to Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. With my second recipe successfully completed I’m thinking that the next one should be bolder and more challenging. Whether I am setting myself up for a potential nervous breakdown, only time will tell...
Till next time.
"The Ring of Truth: Atoms" featuring Julia Child