Now that a certain Miscreant has stolen (stolen!) my beloved tagine, I have had to find a different way to cook chicken to my exacting standards. I am pleased to say I have found one. In the latest issue of Food & Wine magazine, I read an intriguing technique for pot-roasted chicken. The chef does two cool things: (a) he sets the chicken on a bed of aromatics, including aromatic hay, and (b) he seals the pot with dough.
I am very picky about chicken and always on the lookout for techniques that ensure just-done chicken with perfectly moist, tender meat and fully developed flavor. I suspected that this technique would result in a properly cooked chicken, but I wasn’t too sure about the flavor. For a 3.5 lb chicken, the recipe called for 20 sprigs of thyme in addition to the aromatic bed and just a light salt-and-pepper seasoning. Hmm. I was unconvinced. But the technique seemed cool enough that I had to try it.
I decided to tweak just a few things. I upped the herbs because I like a full flavor. I added potatoes to the pot (hey, why not). And I had drumsticks in the fridge, not a whole chicken, so that’s what I used! Also: the person from whom this chef had learned this technique used lavender, not hay. I happen to have a goodly amount of it in my kitchen just now. So… : )
I used fresh but store-bought pizza dough instead of making my own. It was a sticky affair but I managed to encircle the pot with it, taking care to put most of the dough outside the pot. I figured the dough outside would cook up like a pizza crust; I wasn’t sure about the dough inside. I thought it might be soggy or undercooked, and I wanted to minimize wasted dough. This is important to note–it will bite me in the butt shortly.
Into the oven went the pot. Out it came in an hour and ten minutes, as per the recipe. Reader, the pizza seal was such a pain to break. I literally had to chip away at it, holding a knife like a damn chisel. Bits of hard crust went flying everywhere. Oh, it tasted good, but it was just hard, with no chew to it. I was totally disgruntled. Finally the seal was broken and I used a large knife to lift the lid up.
And. the. aroma. It was a heady but light scent, thyme and lavender beautifully blended together. But then I became stern again. So much for a nice fragrance; had any of that flavor permeated the chicken? I transferred everything to a serving dish and tasted it. Oh my god. Perfection. Perfection! Moist, tender, just-done meat, with a delicate but distinct flavor from the herbs. I may or may not have performed a small, undignified dance.
And then I saw the liquid at the bottom of the pot. I dipped a bit of crust in it and tasted– yummy! Well, of course; it’s mostly all fat from the butter and the chicken. But still! The concentrated flavors were fantastic.
But then, but then! Then I noticed the bread on the inside. I poked at it. It was soft. I had a suspicion of what I was about to discover. I tore a piece off– yup. It was soft and spongy inside, perfectly done. It tasted exactly like focaccia. I guess there was enough steam inside to make it cook like that without getting soggy. I dipped it in the liquid and it was divine! Divine, I tell you. Here’s a comparative look at the inside and outside of the bread from inside the pot and outside the pot. Needless to say, next time, I’ll be putting most of the dough on the inside of the pot, with only enough outside to seal it. It’ll mean more focaccia, less hard crust, and a seal that’s a lot easier to break!
You must try this at once. It’s perfect. I didn’t even say anything about the potatoes, but of course they were perfectly cooked and yummy. In short, except for the annoying part about chipping away the outside bread, this dish rocked. Super easy to make, inexpensive, and tastes divine. And makes its own bread and gravy! Here’s how I did it.
Chicken drumsticks, 3 lb
Two large potatoes
30 – 40 whole sprigs of thyme
15 – 20 stalks of food-grade lavender flowers
Salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper
3T of butter, cut into small pieces
1.5 lb pizza dough (fresh, or thawed if frozen)
Garnish: a few sprigs of thyme and lavender
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prep the ingredients: Cut potatoes into bite-sized pieces; toss with salt, pepper and (if desired) cayenne pepper. Season the drumsticks with salt and pepper under the skin (pull it away gently, season meat, and replace the skin–it’ll help keep the chicken moist).
- Layer the ingredients: At base of dutch oven, place bay leaves, chamomile and half the thyme. Arrange half of the drumsticks over the aromatics. Place remaining thyme on the drumsticks and half of the lavender. Place about 1T worth of butter, cut into cubes over the chicken. Arrange remaining drumsticks on top. Arrange remaining lavender and 1T worth of butter cut into cubes over the top. Arrange potatoes around the perimeter; sprinkle remaining 1T of butter over them.
- Seal the pot: Work the dough into a rope and place it around the edge of the dutch oven. Keep most of the dough on the inside, and just a teeny bit peeking out. Cover with lid. Pinch the visible dough up over the lid.
- Roast: Pull it out after an hour and ten minutes. This time worked for a whole chicken in the original recipe and it worked for my drumsticks as well.
- Serve: Break bread seal with knife. Arrange chicken and potatoes in serving dish, garnishing with reserved herbs. Strain the pot juices into a bowl (or reduce in a pan first, if so desired). Serve chunks of bread from inside the pot with the gravy. Try not to eat it all right there in the kitchen. Attempt to share.