Flavours of France

Bistro classics: food writer Mary Cadogan explains how to cook the perfect poule au pot

Henry IV of France was said to have declared that, “If God gives me a longer life, I will see to it that no peasant in my kingdom will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday.” The classic French dish la poule au pot was said to be created to reflect these sentiments. Unfortunately for good king Henry, despite his popularity among his people, he did not live the longer life he had hoped for as he was assassinated in May 1610 after 12 earlier attempts on his life.

There are many versions of this classic recipe, but they all require a good fat chicken cooked slowly in a pot with aromatic vegetables and herbs. Many recipes call for the chicken to be stuffed which would make the dish go a bit further to satisfy larger families.

If you want to do this, simply mix together 200g minced pork, 100g each chopped streaky bacon, chicken livers and breadcrumbs, crushed garlic and finely chopped shallots softened in a little butter and some chopped parsley all bound together with a beaten egg. Stuff the neck end of the chicken only; or if you prefer, shape into balls and cook in a moderate oven for 25 minutes.

I hope purists will forgive me that I have taken a liberty with the recipe by frying the chicken first, which I feel gives it a more appealing golden colour.

While essentially very simple, this dish adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts and key to success is the long slow cooking that results in a wonderfully moist succulent chicken, and a rich stock that holds all the flavours together. To keep with French tradition, serve it to your family for a special Sunday lunch. This dish has absolutely stood the test of time, and will be appreciated just as much now as it was when first created.

RECIPE

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Poule au pot

Serves 4

25g butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1.5 kg chicken, the best you can afford

300ml white wine

1 onion, quartered

1 bouquet garni

2 cloves garlic, peeled

400g small potatoes, peeled

4 carrots cut into 5cm lengths or 12 baby carrots

2 turnips cut into wedges or 6 baby turnips

3 leeks, cut into 5cm lengths or 6 baby leeks

1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

Roughly chopped parsley, to serve

Heat the butter and oil in a large flameproof casserole dish big enough to accommodate the chicken and vegetables. Add the chicken and fry all over until nicely browned. Add the wine, 600ml water, the onion, bouquet garni, garlic, salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Cover tightly and cook on a low heat for one hour, then add the potatoes, carrots, turnips, leeks and tarragon, and cook for a further 45 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and the chicken tender. Taste the cooking juices and add more seasoning if needed. Lift out the chicken onto a warm platter and surround with the vegetables. Pour over a little of the cooking juices and scatter with parsley. Serve the remainder of the juice separately. Soup plates are ideal for this dish and provide spoons for scooping up the juices.