Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lemon pot chicken

Photo by Steve Shanahan
First published Canberra Times 15 August 2012
On Sunday afternoons, in homes around France, chicken in its many guises takes pride of place at the dining table. It’s likely to be grounds for a family uprising if something else other than chicken is served.

Pot chicken with flavours of lemon and garlic is a light and bright family meal that has its roots in the Alsace region of France. Many restaurants have their own take on this dish, yet it always includes a sweet organic chicken with the choice vegetables of the season. It’s one of those surprising dishes that is comforting, yet more complex in flavour and sophisticated than you would first expect. This dish screams comfort in a pot and the dough-sealed lid produces a clean and intense broth, not muddied by cream or thickened with flour.

The addition of sweet potato provides an intriguing hint of sweetness balanced by the lemon. If you do want to make its more substantial cousin for a heartier winter meal, you can add some sour cream or yoghurt to the recipe before cooking.

I begged this recipe from a friend whose childhood culinary memories, growing up in Alsace, are steeped in foods such as this. She explains that the dough seal, although functional, also adds some anticipation and drama when serving the dish. Bring the hot dish to the table before breaking the seal to allow the aromas to excite the taste buds of your guests.

To give this meal some further substance but not pack it out with carbohydrates, I partnered it with a cauliflower puree tinged with a hint of nutmeg.

You will need a casserole pot with lid, large enough to hold a whole chicken and the vegetables.

Quantity serves 4

Sliced peel of 1 lemon
1 whole chicken, or equivalent in chicken pieces
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup olive oil
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
10 small French shallot onions (or small white onions)
10 small Dutch carrots, cut into thirds (or 2 large carrots, cut into 2 centimetre slices)
½ fennel bulb, sliced
3 celery stalks, trimmed and quartered
5 garlic cloves, separated
3 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 rosemary sprigs
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup plain flour
½ cup hot water
salt and ground black pepper
1 whole cauliflower, cut into florets
¼ cup pure cream
pinch nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 215C. Using a sharp knife cut the lemon peel strips into small cubes. Discard the pulp or keep to re-use in another dish. Bring the one cup of water and sugar to the boil in a small saucepan, add the lemon peel and cook for one minute. Drain the water away, keeping the lemon peel, and set aside.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the vegetables and garlic, season to taste with salt and pepper. Saute the vegetables until they are slightly golden. Spoon the vegetables into a large casserole pot, big enough to take a whole chicken. Add the herbs and the lemon peel.

Return the frying pan to the heat, add another tablespoon of oil and brown the chicken on all sides, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Place the chicken into the casserole pot, tucking it between the vegetables and herbs. Add the stock, wine and any remaining olive oil to the casserole pot.

Place the flour and water in a medium bowl and mix to a soft dough, adding water or more flour as needed. Flour a work surface and roll the dough into a long snake, the same length as the rim of the casserole pot. Place the dough around the rim of the pot, pushing down to make it fit, ensuring it goes right around to meet the beginning. Patching any holes. Place the lid down over the dough, pushing firmly to form a seal on the pot.

Place the pot into the oven and bake for one hour.

Bring a medium sized saucepan of lightly salted water to the boil. Add the cauliflower florets and cook until tender. Remove from the heat and drain well.

In a blender or food processor place the cauliflower, cream and nutmeg and blend until pureed. Place into a heatproof bowl ready to reheat for serving as a side to the lemon pot chicken.

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