julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Nobody Calls Me Chicken!


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“I pour cognac over the chicken and set in on fire.  Everyone gathers around to watch as I shake the pan and the flames gradually die out.  Very impressive and all that, but by now I’m far too far gone to enjoy it. ” – Julie Powell

Last night I took another crack at a roast chicken. Poulet au Porto, to be exact (roast chicken steeped with port wine, cream and mushrooms) and it was incredible! To me, chicken is one of those meals that everyone likes to make because it’s easy, but it also gets really boring really quickly. (How many ways can you grill a piece of chicken, I ask you?) So if you’re looking for a new spin on an old classic, you MUST make this recipe. Like, tonight. In fact, why wait? Make it right now. You won’t be sorry. Unless you’re at work and you get fired for cooking at your desk, but even then, I think this dish might be worth it.

I started with the master recipe for roasting a chicken – smearing it with butter inside and out, tying up its legs and tucking up its wings, and basting it for an hour. While it was in the oven, I worked on making the cream sauce. I boiled some quartered mushrooms with a little bit of butter, lemon juice and salt. After about 8 minutes, I poured out the cooking liquid and set it aside. I added some whipping cream as well as a mixture of cream and cornstarch. I let it simmer for a few minutes, then set it aside as well.  

Beginnings of cream and mushroom sauce

When the chicken was done, I took it out of the oven (man, was it juicy and wonderful!) and set it on a cutting board. While it cooled, I added some minced green onions, some madeira wine and the mushroom juice I had reserved earlier to the roasting pan. I boiled it all together, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, and finally added the mushrooms and cream. I let it simmer for a few minutes and it turned to a nice brown, thickened sauce. I added a little bit of lemon juice for flavoring and gave it a little taste…whoo boy, this was going to be goooood!

I smeared butter inside an oven-safe pot, then carved the chicken into serving pieces. Okay, so maybe “carved” is being really nice…it was more like “sawed away at” because apparently I have yet to learn how to properly carve a chicken. I’ve made a mental note to look it up tomorrow. At this point, I realized there were some pieces of the chicken that were still slightly undercooked, so I put all the pieces in the pot and put the pot back in the oven for about 10 more minutes – that did the trick. Next, I set the pot over heat on the stove and when I heard the meat start sizzling, I added 1/4 cup of cognac. And then, the most incredible thing happened.

Julia Child told me to set the cognac on fire.

Yes. On fire.

Now, don’t think for one minute that the irony of this step was lost on me. It was not. Between my pizza flambe and the french bread from the other night, if there’s one person who has mastered the art of setting food on fire in the kitchen, it’s me. So I waited for Ben to get home before completing this step, since he’s the one who manages to think quickly and keep his wits about him in a time of crisis. Julia warns to “avert your face” (great advice!) and use a match to light the alcohol. I opted for a barbecue lighter, since I figured it would give me more distance between my hand and the open flame. I held my breath, pulled the trigger…

See the flames over the chicken? Who doesn't love pyrotechnics?

…and it worked!! A flash of blue flame burst over the pot, and it was completely under control. Hooray for a great culinary victory! The next step was to slowly shake the pot back and forth until the flames died down, so I used a pair of tongs to do so (I could just see myself setting my oven mitts on fire…again). Once the flames had subsided, I covered the pot and let the meat cook with the mushrooms for another five minutes.

While all of this was going on, I was also working on our side dish: Risotto (braised rice). In a casserole dish, I cooked some minced onion in some butter, then added raw rice to the casserole. When the rice turned a milky translucent color, I added some boiling chicken stock to the dish. I also added an herb bouquet – a collection of bay leaf, thyme and parsley that I wrapped up in a little bit of cheesecloth. I let everything simmer on the stove, then covered the dish and put it in the oven for about 20 minutes. When it was done, I took it out, gave it a little fluffing with a fork, and it was done!

Poulet au Porto with Risotto

I scooped a spoonful of rice onto a plate, then used a large spoon to serve the chicken and mushroom cream sauce over the rice. I tasted the risotto first, and it was really moist and fluffy. I liked it even better than Julia’s steamed rice. But then I tasted the chicken and cream sauce…and then I died a thousand deaths. When I got to Heaven, I told everyone about this recipe and how they must try it, and they sent me back to Earth so I could finish the meal. The cream sauce was so rich and wonderful – the wine flavor was really strong, but blended well with the mushroom and cream flavors. As cheesy as it sounds, I really felt like one bite of this meal transported me to another place and time. The meal tasted so…fancy. Ben and I both went back for seconds, and cleaned our plates twice. This dinner has made its way to our Top 5 list (and might even be in 1st place for favorite Julia dish so far). With the exception of the time and attention it takes to roast the chicken, this meal is really easy to make. Have I mentioned that I highly recommend it? Because I do.

And you get to play with open flame, so that’s just an added bonus.

Okay, for real now. Stop reading this and go make dinner! You won’t be sorry.


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