Saturday, February 07, 2009

French Chicken in a Pot

By Diana Hsieh

As some of you might recall, I'm a huge fan of the fine cooks at America's Test Kitchen. I have a full shelf of their cookbooks, about 25 in all. I have a subscription to their web site, and I subscribe to their bi-monthly journal Cook's Illustrated. Oh, and I watch their excellent TV show, appropriately called America's Test Kitchen. Their recipes are not mere instructions: by their extensive testing and write-ups, they teach you the art and science of cooking. My capacity to cook a fantastic dinner of meat and veggies in thirty minutes from start to finish is almost entirely due to learning and applying their methods.

Since going on my new diet, I am more choosy about the recipes I make from them. I don't make their pastas, desserts, or any of their low-fat recipes. However, they have tons of great recipes for foods I do eat. And now that I've shed myself of my prejudice against fats, I often make the super-fatty dishes that I used to avoid, such as the brussels spouts braised in a cup of cream from their highly useful Perfect Vegetables cookbook. Also, I adapt their recipes to suit my diet, such as substituting reserved bacon fat or coconut oil for vegetable oil. Those changes are easy to manage.

Last weekend, I made their "French Chicken in a Pot." It was -- without a doubt -- the very best whole chicken I've ever eaten. The smell of it slowly cooking in its pot in the oven drove me crazy for hours. The taste of it lived up to my every hope. The chicken was amazingly juicy -- and the sauce made from the chicken drippings and few vegetables was intensely flavorful.

The "French Chicken in a Pot" recipe is available to web site subscribers here. It can also be found in the January 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated. Since it was featured on their TV show, it's also available for free on that web site, provided that you register.

In making the recipe, I brined the chicken in saltwater beforehand to make it more juicy. I substituted reserved bacon fat for the olive oil. (Olive oil is great, but from a bit that I've read, it's not suitable for cooking at high temperatures. Plus, I love the slightly bacon flavor that the bacon fat adds.) I also added a carrot to the pot, in addition to the onion and celery. It took time to cook, but not much work.

In addition to the chicken, I also made Cook's "Quick Cooked Greens with Red Bell Pepper." That recipe is available on the web to subscribers; it was published in the January 1995 issue of Cook's Illustrated too. Once again, I substituted reserved bacon fat for the olive oil. Also, instead of mere chicken broth, I used some of the intensely-flavored liquid from the chicken. Those greens turned out quite well too.

If you're not familiar with America's Test Kitchen but you'd like to try them out, I'd recommend starting with a subscription to their web site. You can get a two week free trial, and the cost for the whole year is just $35. The web site doesn't have all the recipes they've published in all their specialty cookbooks. However, it has every recipe from over 15 years of the magazine, plus lots of helpful short videos, equipment reviews, taste tests, and cooking methods.

I'm definitely going to do more food blogging in the future -- hopefully with some pictures. I'll often point to a recipe from their web site, simply because that's what I use most often.

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