Texas Independence day was last week, so as a state employee, I had the holiday off. Woohoo, I love these non-Monday or non-Friday holidays! This was a much needed respite for me to get away from the daily doldrums of work, since I feel like I’ve been slowly but surely taking on the persona of a typical, disgruntled government employee these days, finding little satisfaction in what I do all day and being continuously annoyed by co-workers with mental afflictions and personality malfunctions. I generally leave work at work, but these days, my dissatisfaction has been seeping into my personal life and negatively affecting my general disposition.
But, on this day off, I left all of those annoyances behind and indulged in food, which gives me endless joy. I started the day by picking up where I left off in Julia Child’s My Life in France. Shamefully, I must admit that I knew very little about Julia Child before seeing the Julie and Julia movie recently. Sure, I had seen her cook on TV occasionally when I was younger, but I just thought of her as the lady with a funny voice who loves to use butter when cooking. Until I started reading her memoir, I had no idea how serious she was about food and that she actually received formal culinary training in Paris. Her genuine passion for food and life shines through every word she wrote in her memoir, and she has no doubt become an inspiration to me, not only in regards to food, but also life in general.
I was so enthralled by her and her enthusiasm that I felt compelled to pick up her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1 recently. I pored through her opus and absorbed her every word. She provides an incredible amount of detail about techniques, ingredients, and kitchen equipment. Though I have a preference for eating and preparing Asian foods, much of the information in the book can be applied to preparing foods from all parts of the world, as Julia points out in her book. In the short amount of time that I’ve had the cookbook, I’ve already picked up so many pointers from her! In reading Julia chronicle how the cookbook came to fruition while trying to learn how to prepare the dishes from the cookbook, I’ve developed an immense amount of respect for her and her work. The amount of time and dedication she and Simca Beck invested in researching, developing and painstakingly testing each recipe is incredible!
In the past, I didn’t really have much interest in la cuisine française because my stomach couldn’t really handle many of the sauce-heavy dishes. Although my stomach is still pretty weak when it comes to those types of dishes, I’ve started to develop a much greater appreciation for the cuisine over time because of its techniques and artistry, particularly because I love to make pastries. And, with Julia’s book, I hope to learn how to prepare some of the classic French dishes.
Well, for my first dish from Julia’s cookbook, I decided to attempt something simple so as not to get discouraged early after making only one dish. The roast chicken was a good starting point, since it required very little preparation time and few ingredients. In an effort to continue eating locally and whole foods, I got a chicken that was raised on a local farm, Dewberry Hills Farms. The chicken was a little on the pricey side, probably about three times as much as a regular fryer at the grocery store, but it was well worth it. It actually tasted like chicken and nothing like “the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.” And, the texture was firm and not mushy like industrially raised chickens found at supermarkets. If you haven’t already, I urge you to try a pasture raised chicken-you’ll never go back to eating chickens raised any other way.
Preparing and roasting the chicken required very little effort and could easily be made during the week for a fulfilling weeknight meal. Though Julia’s recipe is great as it stands, I made a few slight modifications to suit my tastes. I didn’t truss the chicken, since a slit had been made in the skin to allow inserting the legs, which I felt was adequate to maintain the chicken’s shape during the cooking process. I also added more seasoning than the recipe called for. In addition to the 1/4 teaspoon of salt, I also added some onion to the chicken cavity. I also added more salt and finely ground pepper to the outside of the chicken before cooking as well. The chicken turned out beautifully, full of flavor and juices, and the accompanying sauce of shallots, chicken stock, and the drippings from the roasting pan paired well with it. For a side dish, I threw a salad together with red butter lettuce topped with mushrooms sauteed with shallots, avocado, tomatoes, olives, and a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I think my first meal out of MTAFC was a success and I can’t wait to try out other dishes from the book!
Poulet Rôti (Roast Chicken)
[adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking]
3 lb chicken
1.25 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon finely ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter + 2 tablespoons
1 carrot, sliced
1.5 onion, quartered
1 tablespoon cooking oil
for the sauce
2 tablespoons of fat from roasting pan
1/2 tablespoon minced shallots
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon softened butter
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
2. In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon of cooking oil for basting.
3. Put 1/4 teaspoon salt in the chicken cavity along with half an onion and smear in 1 tablespoon of the butter. Then, rub the skin with 1 tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
4. Place the chicken breast up in a shallow roasting pan that is just large enough to hold the chicken, and place the carrot and rest of the onion around the chicken. Place the roasting pan on the middle rack in the preheated oven.
5. Brown chicken lightly for 15 minutes, turning it onto its left side after 5 minutes, onto its right side for the last 5 minutes, and using a basting brush, baste with the butter and oil after turning the chicken each time. Be sure to baste quickly to avoid releasing too much heat from the oven.
6. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Leave the chicken on its right side and baste it every 10 minutes with the butter and oil until exhausted. Then use the drippings in the roasting pan for basting. Adjust the oven temperature so the chicken is making cooking noises, but no fat is burning.
7. After roasting for 45 minutes, salt the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and turn to the other side. Continue basting every 10 minutes.
8. About 15 minutes before the chicken is done roasting, salt with another 1/4 teaspoon of salt and turn the chicken breast up. Continue basting.
Julia indicates that the chicken is almost done when you hear “a sudden rain of splutters in the oven.” If you miss those distinct sounds, the chicken is done when the meat thermometer reaches 175-180 degrees. Let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes on a hot platter before carving. Total roasting time was about 1 hour and 30 minutes for my chicken because it was a little over 3 pounds.
1. In a small saucepan, slowly cook the minced shallots with the fat from the roasting pan for about a minute.
2. Add the chicken broth and cook over high heat until liquid reduces to about 1/2 cup.
3. Julia indicates to season with salt and pepper, but I didn’t find the salt necessary since I added a little more salt than she did to the chicken when I roasted it, so the sauce didn’t really need it.
4. Take off heat and add the butter bit by bit until absorbed. Serve a small spoonful over each serving of chicken.