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

I Don’t Truss a Chicken Any Further Than I Can Throw It

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“Some of the most glorious dishes of the French cuisine have been created for chicken…A chicken should taste like chicken and be so good in itself that it is an absolute delight to eat as a perfectly plain, buttery roast, saute, or grill.” – Julia Child


We’re in for another crazy week here on ayearwithjulia.com – I’ve been gearing up for a big performance with my women’s chorus, and our concert is this Saturday. Next week should be back to normal, but until then, just hang on tight and come along for the wild ride. Deal?

My whole life, I’ve never really been into high maintenance – I like to keep things simple. From my lifelong haircut of long, straight, parted down the middle to a machine-wash wardrobe, I like to do whatever I can to make things easy on myself. Which is why, every Thanksgiving, when it comes time to cook a turkey, we just put that baby in a disposable foil pan and stick it in the oven and don’t see it again until hours later when it comes out of the oven golden brown. We don’t stuff it; we don’t tie it; and we don’t baste it. I saw Paula Deen baste a turkey once on her Thanksgiving special, and it looked terrific! I briefly considered doing it for my own turkey, only to then decide at the last minute that I’d much rather lie on the sofa and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade than stand at the oven catering to the turkey’s beckon call.

So I’ve been putting off the section in Mastering the Art of French Cooking entitled Poultry. In the second week of our project I thought a juicy chicken breast would be a nice change of pace, but when I read that the first step to cooking a chicken was to buy a WHOLE chicken, I began having second thoughts. The second step of cooking the chicken was to TRUSS a chicken. Whoa, what? The only way I even knew what it meant to truss a chicken was by the hand drawn illustrations in The Book – if you don’t know, it’s the act of sewing the legs and the wings to the body with a giant needle and butcher’s twine so that the chicken makes a nice presentation when served.

Nobody here but us chickens.

As you can imagine, this was slightly intimidating. I’ve done some cross stitching and crocheting in my life, but never have I ever sewn up an animal. Yikes. After purchasing the 3 lb. bird, the next thing I needed was a trussing needle. Double yikes. My new favorite grocery store has an entire section on cooking utensils (where I previously purchased butcher’s twine) upon which I was counting on having the needle – no luck. I was directed to a major kitchen supply store across the street – again, to no avail. Yet a third store came up empty, and it was mind boggling to me that none of these well-known stores carried such a thing (I had to actually tell one of the store’s employees, “It’s a giant needle used to sew up a chicken.” File that under “Thing I never thought I’d say to a person.”)

Julia says not to worry if you can’t locate a trussing needle – whew! You can use a mattress needle instead. WHAT?! As if that would be easier to find than a trussing needle? Forget it. I started thinking outside the box (my mom and I are constantly calling ourselves the Queens of Something Out of Nothing – we follow a “where there’s a will, there’s a way” philosophy) and Ben and I had the same eureka moment at the same time. We stopped by a craft supply store on the way home and bought the biggest needle we could find. This would have to hold us over until I could order a true trussing needle off the internet. Not sure if it would work, but better than nothing, we headed home.

After a day spent on home improvement projects, it was finally time to get started on dinner. Planned for the evening was:

  • Poulet Roti (roast chicken)
  • Gratin Dauphinois (scalloped potatoes with milk, cheese and a pinch of garlic)
  • Canned green beans (a couple of weeks ago I had emptied these into a tupperware container so I could use their can for grease and was afraid they would go bad soon – they were French cut, so I figured they would be acceptable)

Trussing a Chicken

The cooking time for a 3 lb. chicken is about an hour and twenty minutes, so I decided to get started on that first. I took the chicken out of the fridge and salted the inside, then rubbed the inside of the body with butter. (Talk about getting personal! That kind of treatment would have cost a $25 copay anywhere else.) Next I studied The Book carefully on how to truss a chicken. There are two steps to this process: tying off the legs and then tying off the wings. I threaded the butcher’s twine through my giant sewing needle and followed Julia’s instructions: with the chicken face down, I ran the needle through the tail end of the body, through one drum stick and back through the lower breastbone and over the second drumstick. I tied the two ends of the string together, then ran a second string through the middle of the body (this was harder with the sewing needle as it wasn’t quite long enough to fit all the way through the body, plus the fact my fingers were slippery) and flipped the chicken over and ran the thread through one wing, then back around the second and again tied the strings together.

Next I dried the chicken with a paper towel, and then came a massage (sadly, this was for the chicken – not for me) where I rubbed butter all over the skin. I set the chicken tummy side up in my roasting pan (it came with my pots and pans when I bought them over five years ago and I’ve never used it!), tossed some sliced carrot and onion around it and set it in the oven. Every five minutes I gave the bird a quarter turn, basting it with a mixture of melted butter and oil and a dash of salt, for 15 minutes, then left it on its side for the next hour and twenty minutes, basting it every 10 minutes. I tell you, this was one high maintenance project. Eight times I checked on that chicken, each time dousing it with butter and oil. Had this been a person, I have to confess that I don’t think I would have had the patience to stick it out. Somewhere around visit number four, I would have said, “Listen, this isn’t working out,” given them the ol’ “It’s not you, it’s me” routine, and hit the road. (Hey, don’t judge. We all have our breaking point.)

Scalloped Potatoes

While the chicken was doing its thing in the oven, I turned my attention to the scalloped potatoes. I peeled and sliced about 1 lb. of potatoes, then smeared an oven-safe pan with garlic and butter. I covered the bottom of the pan with a layer of potatoes, seasoned them with salt and pepper, added a little butter and some grated Swiss cheese, then repeated these steps with a second layer. I poured a half-cup of boiling milk over the top, brought the whole thing to a simmer, then popped it into the oven for about 30 minutes. When the milk had evaporated and the top of the potatoes was nice and brown, I pulled them out and set them aside.

When the chicken was done in the oven, I pulled her out, set the bird on a platter and poured the majority of the fat out of the pan. I added some minced green onion and a cup of chicken broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to render all the yummy brown bits, and made a nice sauce with which to top the chicken.

Chicken, Sauce and Potatoes

Julie Powell had a rough time with this recipe. She reported that the chicken came out dry, and that nobody could beat her own recipe of how she preferred to roast a chicken. So my expectations for this meal were pretty low. But when we served up a piece of chicken breast with a scoop of potatoes and a side of the green beans, my interest was piqued. The chicken smelled wonderful, and the skin was a lovely golden brown. I cut into the meat and took a small bite, and was immediately impressed by how juicy and tender the meat was. And considering I didn’t use any seasonings except salt and pepper, the meat exploded with flavor. The potatoes were equally as good, cooked just right – not overly creamy or runny, but not completely dry either. The Swiss cheese was barely noticeable in flavor, but gave the potatoes a nice texture. We both went back for seconds on the ‘taters. Delish!

This is easily one of my favorite Julia meals so far. I could definitely see cooking this for a group of people (with a bigger bird, of course) or just for Ben and me with some slight leftovers for the next day. And I have to admit, despite my dislike of high maintenance activity, the basting of this chicken made all the difference and was totally worth it. I’m sad to see that Julia doesn’t offer any turkey recipes, because I could definitely see cooking my Thanksgiving turkey this way this year. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Roast Chicken, Scalloped Potatoes & Green Beans

Again, this meal wasn’t hard at all – not even the trussing was very difficult (although I did look up an episode of The French Chef to see Julia do it firsthand so I could be sure I was doing it correctly). If anything, it just took time and attention – nothing like a crock pot dish where you just toss all the ingredients together and forget about it until hours later. No way. This needed action every 10 minutes, even though it only took a few seconds to care for. But in the end, I wold do it all over again to wind up with that juicy meat. The sauce on top was an added bonus, but I didn’t think the meat needed it – it was good enough on its own.

My dad has a theory about what constitutes an “excellent” meal. If each element of the meal is excellent as a stand-alone dish, then the whole meal can be considered excellent – I definitely think this meal qualifies. The potatoes were super yummy, and the chicken was a real treat. I would definitely make this again – who knows? Maybe this year’s Thanksgiving meal will feature chicken instead of turkey.

Meanwhile, in other news, I’d like to wish my husband a very  happy birthday. As Paul Child once said to Julia, “You are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life.” I love you, best friend, and am glad we get a lifetime of birthdays together.

More tomorrow!


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3 Responses to “I Don’t Truss a Chicken Any Further Than I Can Throw It”

  1. Deane says:

    Hello! Is it OK that I go a bit off topic? I am trying to view your domain on my iPad but it doesn’t display properly, any suggestions? Thanks! Deane

    • Jessica says:

      Hi, there! I see what you mean – I think the problem is that there’s a feature on my home page that is done in Flash, which iPad doesn’t support. I did a quick google search and found this possible solution: There’s a free, Apple-approved / App Store downloadable program called “Cloud Browse.” Cloud Browse (direct App Store link) uses VNC technology to let anyone run a full, desktop version of the FireFox web browser on their Apple mobile device. I’m not very familiar with the iPad, but hopefully this or something like it will solve the problem.

      An easier solution would be to go to the far right side of the home page and click directly on one of the links in Recent Posts. That will take you directly to the page of that post, which doesn’t have any Flash features on it, and you should be able to view the post without any problems.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

  2. Melanie Ridings says:

    The Simpler, the Better – especially late in the evening! Bon Appetit!
    Happy Cooking – Love it = Love, Melanie

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