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

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!


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“When I finally got myself invited to a large ladies’ lunch, we were served canned shredded chicken in a droopy, soupy sauce, and brownies from a mix. Yuck.” – Julia Child 

For the past few weeks, I’ve had a whole chicken taking up valuable real estate in my freezer, so Friday night I decided it was time for it to fulfill its destiny. I followed Julia’s recipe for Poulets Grilles a la Diable (chicken broiled with mustard, herbs and bread crumbs) with a side of Oignons Glaces a Blanc (white-braised onions), corn and new potatoes. I can officially report that this dish was a winner!  

I'll be honest, this whole process kinda freaked me out.

Right off the bat, I knew I was in trouble… Julia said I had to quarter a chicken. So before getting started, I did some research online to figure out how this was done, because – can you believe it? – I’m 30 years old and have never quartered a chicken. I found a helpful video on youtube and made some mental notes, then headed to the kitchen. I started with the chicken face-down on a cutting board and found its backbone with my fingers. With a pair of kitchen shears, I cut a slit all the way up one side of the backbone, then another slit along the other side until I could remove the whole section in one piece. (Voice of experience: don’t be alarmed by the sound of crunching bone. As awful as it sounds, you’re doing it correctly.) At this point, I spread the chicken open and, with a really big, sharp knife, cut down the center of the chicken to divide it in half. (I may have had to call in some reinforcement – it took a little more upper body strength than I was prepared to give.) Once I was looking at two halves of the chicken, I cut away some of the extra bones (a few ribs, a breast bone…yikes, this was more work than I had bargained for!) and, having no idea what I was doing, realized at this point that a butcher I am not. That’s one point where Julie Powell and I differ. Big Time. So it is here I’d like to say a few words…  

To the chicken who gave its life for my dinner,
I’m sorry I’m not a better butcher. I’m sorry you gave your life for the benefit of someone with no professional training whatsoever, who demolished your poor little body for the sole purpose of education and sustenance. I appreciate you, and hope you can find the good in your ultimate sacrifice. I’m a better chef for having known you. 

And to the waste management workers for the City of Fort Worth, please do not look inside our trash can on Monday morning. Not only will you be shocked and horrified by the discovery of its contents, but I really don’t want to have to explain to a jury that it really is just chicken parts and has nothing to do with my neighbor whose house alarm wakes us up every morning like clockwork. He’s out of town on business, okay?    

– Yours Truly   

Halfway through the quartering process. Looks to me like this chicken has a ... split personality! *ba dum pah!*

 With that out of the way, I finally flipped the chicken halves over and used my sharp knife to separate the halves where the thigh meat connected to the body. With both sides done, I had officially quartered my first chicken. It wasn’t pretty, but it was done. I dried the meat with paper towels and smeared the pieces with a butter/oil mixture, setting them in the bottom of a roasting pan (no rack). I put the pan under the broiler for 10 minutes, flipping the meat half-way through and basting with more of the butter/oil.    

Meanwhile, I peeled a handful of small onions and put them in a pan with vermouth, butter, and a small herb bouquet. I covered the pan and let it boil slowly for about 40 minutes, keeping an eye on the onions and rolling them around with a spoon so they wouldn’t burn. About halfway through I had to add more vermouth because the liquid had nearly burned off, but it was no big deal and worked out fine.  

Mustard shmear

 When the chicken was done basting, I took it out of the oven to see it was getting a nice tan under the broiler. I mixed dijon mustard (yep, from a bottle) with minced shallots and thyme, then added a few spoonfuls of the chicken juice to create a mayonnaise-like texture. I then smeared all four pieces of chicken with the mustard, then rolled each piece in white bread crumbs. (What do you know! After the terrible job I did of cutting the chicken apart, my messy handiwork was hidden in the end. Victory is mine!) I put the rack in the roasting pan, then set each piece of chicken on it, skin side down. I drizzled a little more basting fat over the meat, then put it back under the broiler for another 10 minutes. When I went to flip them, I noticed they were getting a little too browned, so I turned down the heat on the broiler and only cooked the other side for about 8 minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking, I could really smell the tanginess of the mustard and the sweetness of the onions on the stove. I also steamed some new potatoes and corn we had lying around.    

Before a mustard bath and bread crumb dip. Lookin' good, huh?

 Right away, I couldn’t believe how great the chicken looked. It was more American than I had expected, looking like familiar fried chicken. The bread crumb crust was golden brown, light and lovely, and not the least bit thick or overly crunchy, and not greasy at all. I had a thigh, with a small serving of the onions and other side dishes. Everything looked and smelled great – even the bottom of the chicken that I thought was too browned turned out fine.  

 I tried the onions first and was surprised to find them to be extremely tender and sweet, without a strong onion flavor. They were less like onions at all, really, and more like a true side dish. The chicken was also a hit. The breading, as I said, was light and delicate, and the meat was juicy and tender. (My piece probably could have cooked for a few more minutes, but Ben’s piece seemed to be just right.) The mustard coating beneath the bread crumbs was hardly noticeable at all – I could smell it while it was cooking more than I could taste it while I was eating. Delicious.   

What a meal!

 My favorite thing about this meal was the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of detailed steps to this recipe, and best of all, the chicken didn’t take long to cook at all. Under the broiler for a total of 40 minutes (and not even that, since I took it out a little early to avoid scorching the breading). With the exception of wrestling with the chicken quartering, the preparation was really easy. And now that I’ve done it once, I feel confident I would do a better (and quicker) job of it the next time.    

Overall, we give this meal two thumbs way up. A couple of glasses of wine and an episode of Parenthood later, and we’re living the high life.  

Happy weekend, everyone!
– Jessica 

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