Toujours simple, always simple, is my culinary philosophy and a mantra attributed to many of the great French masters. Sometimes it’s such simple dishes like this homey classic, Poussin en Cocotte – Baby Chicken Roasted with Vegetables, that give the most satisfaction. The baby chicken braises in the oven in a covered casserole on a bed of aromatic vegetable, stock and wine. As it cooks, the bird and vegetables release steam, which bastes the meat. Once the liquid reduces, the surface of the chicken browns. And the remaining liquid and cooking juices reduce into an unctuous sauce.

There are only a few steps to follow for the best results. To achieve the effect of braising then roasting, you need a covered casserole close to the size of the bird. Choose the bird to fit your pot. (Or the pot to fit the size of the bird if, like us, you have the luxury of having many to choose from.)

We used an oval shaped covered casserole with a slightly domed lid. This is a purpose-made piece of kitchenware; its oval shape mimics the shape of the bird. This means the bird will brown evenly on all sides. The enamel coated steel casserole holds 1 ½ quarts of liquid and a 2.2 pound (1 kilo) baby chicken or large game hen perfectly.

Here is the baby chicken in the cocotte after cooking.

The average roasting chicken you’ll find at the store weighs 3 ½–4 pounds. If you want to use a regular chicken, select a larger casserole. If your covered casserole is round, place the vegetables in the center of the pot. Mound them up then settle the bird on top of the vegetables so that its sides are exposed to the walls of the covered casserole.

In order to develop a flavorful broth and burnished crisp skin, brown the chicken and the vegetables before assembling them in the covered casserole. Celery, carrots, shallots and garlic act as aromatics the flavor the juices. They are in fact the key ingredients for making any kind of stock.

Here are the vegetables browning before adding them to the casserole.

The pictured baby chicken weighs 2 pounds 4 ounces. (It served two and could easily serve 4 when accompanied by a salad and cheese course.) We serve it with string beans. We ate the legs at another meal with of cheese ravioli and wilted spinach tossed in some reserved juices.

Kitchen Notebook:

You’ll find recipes for making Poulet en Cocotte (chicken in a covered casserole) in any classic French cookbook although I suspect most women learned to make this from their mothers. One classic cookbook with such recipes for the home cook is La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange, written in 1927. Its an invaluable collection of recipes and cooking techniques for the French home cook. I use both an early edition of the original in French and the translation published by Ten Speed Press in 2005.

A simple variation is the garnish called Grandmère, which includes bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions. To prepare this variation, cut thick sliced bacon into ½-inch wide pieces. Render the bacon until crisp. Set the cooked bacon aside. Brown the pearl onions and quartered mushroom in the fat. Proceed withe the recipe browning the chicken and other vegetables in the bacon fat and added butter.  Add everything to the pot and roast as described.

You can buy baby chickens from D’Artagnan online and at many local grocery stores. Big Y in Connecticut often has them.

Poussin en Cocotte – Baby Chicken Roasted with Vegetables

Serving Size: 2 to 4 Servings

Poussin en Cocotte – Baby Chicken Roasted with Vegetables

The average roasting chicken you’ll find at the store weighs 3 ½–4 pounds. If you want to use a regular chicken, select a larger casserole. If your covered casserole is round, place the vegetables in the center of the pot. Mound them up then settle the bird on top of the vegetables so that its sides are exposed to the walls of the covered casserole.

Ingredients

One 2 – 2 ½ pound poussin (baby chicken) or large game hen

Salt and cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 fat carrots, halved lengthwise then cut into 2-inch lengths

1 large stalk celery, halved lengthwise then cut into 2-inch lengths

3 large shallots, peeled and halved

3 fat cloves garlic, peeled

1 sprig fresh thyme or tarragon

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock or broth, homemade if available

1/2 cup dry white wine

Green beans or asparagus, steamed, as needed

Chopped parsley, as needed

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Remove the neck and giblets from the chicken to use for stock. Wipe the baby chicken dry. Season it with salt and cayenne pepper.
  3. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Melt the butter in the pan. When it stops sizzling, place the bird, breast side down in the pan. Brown it well on each side turning it carefully.
  4. Remove the browned bird to a plate. Add the vegetables to the pan. Cook them gently until browned on all sides.
  5. Scrape the vegetables into the bottom of a covered casserole (cocotte) just large enough to hold the bird and vegetables. Add the thyme. Place the browned poussin on top of the vegetables. Add the chicken stock and wine. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Cover and place in the oven. Cook until the bird is well browned and tender and the juices have reduced, for approximately 1 – 1 ¼ hours.
  6. Carefully remove the bird from the pot. Cut it in half. Remove any loose bones. Then remove the legs from each half. Place a breast or leg quarter onto each plate. Spoon some of the vegetables and cooking juices next to the meat. Garnish the plate with cooked green beans and chopped parsley.