Whole braised chicken in a pot

A whole braised chicken can feed a crowd or just two on a quiet winter afternoon.

The Rowdy Chowgirl
A whole braised chicken with vegetables under a flaky crust.

It started snowing Saturday afternoon. The fat flakes were just enough to derange traffic and disrupt my plans to meet up with a friend for coffee. Instead, I spent the afternoon making marmalade, filling the house with steamy warmth and the scent of oranges.

The snow continued Sunday morning, a thin blanket over rooftops and cars, obscuring the view of the lake, and stilling the sounds of the city.  The kitten watched the snow fall outside the window, at first trying to move his head fast enough to capture all of the enticing motion of dancing, drifting flakes.  Finally, he settled for a fixed and unwinking stare.

We bundled up and walked around the quiet, snow-dusted neighborhood, crunching on the thin layer of white underfoot, then returned to cuddle up under a blanket on the couch.

It doesn’t snow often in Seattle, but when it does it is best to give in gracefully and really have a snow day. Pare away any unnecessary errands or chores. Remember what is urgent and what is not.  Use a bit of the extra time to cook something that takes a little longer than usual – something savory that will simmer or braise gently all the long, grey afternoon, filling the house with the promise of a hot, hearty dinner. Get a hot cup of tea or cocoa and a blanket and a book.  Retreat to the couch. If an unscheduled nap happens while dinner is in the oven, all the better.

This whole braised chicken makes a good dinner party dish, but is also just right for a long winter afternoon when you have nothing special planned. The dough seal keeps the steam inside the pot, gently braising the chicken to an amazing degree of tenderness. The potatoes, carrots, and celery are traditional accompaniments for a Sunday roast, but here they are infused with the aroma of herbs and garlic. And there is plenty of garlic, but it is not overpowering, as the whole cloves cook in their skins and become sweet and caramelized. Serve with French bread, so that you can pop the garlic cloves out of their jackets and smear them all over the bread.

Whole Braised Chicken in a Pot
(adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan)

2 lemons, washed and quartered
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large potatoes, peeled and each cut into 8 same-sized pieces
2 medium onions,
2 shallots
8 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
4 celery stalks, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
4 garlic heads, cloves separated but not peeled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon parsley
3 rosemary sprigs
1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine or add 1/2 cup more broth]
About 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup hot water

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the vegetables and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and sauté in batches until the vegetables are brown on all sides. Spoon the vegetables into a 4-1/2- to 5-quart Dutch oven or other pot with a lid and stir in the herbs and half the lemon quarters.

Return the skillet to the heat, add another tablespoon of oil, and brown the chicken on all sides, seasoning it with salt and pepper as it cooks. Place remaining lemon quarters in the cavity of the chicken, then tuck the chicken into the casserole, surrounding it with the vegetables. Mix together the broth, wine, and the remaining olive oil and pour over the chicken and vegetables.

Put 1-1/2 cups flour in a medium bowl and add enough hot water to make a malleable dough. Dust a work surface with a little flour, turn out the dough, and, working with your hands, roll the dough into a sausage. Place the dough on the rim of the pot – if it breaks, just piece it together – and press the lid onto the dough to seal the pot.

Slide the pot into the oven and bake for 55 minutes.

Use the point of a heavy knife or screwdriver as a lever to separate the lid from the dough.

Related post: Marmalade

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