Thursday, April 14, 2011

Poulet en Cocotte and Moroccan Braised Chicken, Version 2

It's hard to remember now why exactly I decided to try Cook's Illustrated recipe for Poulet en Cocotte.  French name aside, it's sweated chicked, that's what it is, and the idea didn't do much for me.  But I tired it anyway and learned that this unappetizing concept has enormous potential.

What is so good about Cook's recipe:

  • Browning the chicken before covering and sweating.  No, the browning won't give you crispy skin in this case, but it will give you much more flavor.
  • No additional liquid and limited amount of thoroughly browned vegetables.  This results in a very concentrated, wonderfully delicious sauce that naturally forms in the pot during cooking.
  • Very low oven temperature helps keep the chicken tender and juicy.
My own improvements:
  • Salt the chicken at least 24 hours in advance -- it's Judy Rodger's technique and she is never wrong
  • Rub the chicken with mashed garlic (whole cloves grated on a microplane zester) all over and under the skin.
  • Stuff the chicken (my favorite stuffing is prunes -- due to a happy childhood memory).  Not only is the stuffing yummy, but it helps the breast meat cook slower.  
  • When the chicken is done, carve into serving pieces, dry off on paper towels and sear skin side down in butter (use a well seasoned cast iron or non-stick pan for this).  
While the legs were really lovely, I still found the breasts overcooked to my liking.  So I removed them for another preparation, discarded the breast bone and ribs, and used the rest of the chicken in parts (legs, back, and wings) for poulet and cocotte.  I browned the chicken parts and removed to a plate, then browned the veggies, returned chicken to the pot and proceeded just like the Cook's recipe.  Another option is to use 4 legs instead of 1 whole chicken.  Since the concept is similar to braising, I decided to try it with the Moroccan Chicken Braise ingredients.  There was less work than a traditional braise and results were even better.  

Here is what makes this technique better than my previous chicken braise recipe
  • The skin is thinner and has better texture
  • No need to make a stock (the chicken releases just the right amount of liquid during cooking)
  • Cooking time is a lot shorter
Moroccan Inspired Chicken Braise, Version 2
If you don't have a Dutch oven, you can get good results in an oven-proof skillet with a tight fitting lid.  You can also buy a very inexpensive Dutch oven from Walmart made by Tramontina.  That's the one I use.  

Serves 4

4 chicken legs (about 10 oz each)
1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane zester
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onions, sliced pole to pole
6 garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely minced
1/2 preserved lemon (a.k.a Moroccan lemon), pulp removed, skin rinsed, and sliced paper thin
1 cup dried fruit (prunes, apricots, raisins, cherries, cranberries)
1 Tbsp butter

Salting the chicken (if possible, do this 1-3 days in advance)
Press the chicken pieces between paper towels to dry and sprinkle with salt on all sides including under the skin.
Browning the chicken and vegetables
  1. Preheat oven to 250F.
  2. Press the chicken pieces between paper towels to dry.  Rub with microplane grated garlic on the flesh side and under the skin.  Mix pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cardamom and sprinkle all over chicken (you might have some spice mixture left over).
  3. Set a 6-8 quart Dutch oven over medium high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add chicken pieces skin-side down without overlapping (if your pot is not large enough, do this in batches). Do not disturb the chicken for at least 5 minutes. Regulate heat so that the chicken is making sizzling noises, but is not burning. When the first side is brown, flip the chicken to brown briefly on the other side, about 1 minute. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.
  4. Add the onions and whole garlic cloves to the pot. Cook stirring occasionally until brown, 8-10 minutes. 
  5. Add ginger, preserved lemon, and dried fruit.  
  6. Return chicken to the pot.  Cover with foil and then a tight fitting lid and place in the oven until the thighs register 175F, about 30 minutes.
  7. Remove chicken pieces and dry on paper towels.
  8. Tilt the pan, and skim off excess fat. 
  9. Set a large well-seasoned cast iron skillet (or non-stick) oven high heat.  Add 1 Tbsp butter.  When the butter foam subsides add the chicken skin side down and brown until crisp, about 2 minutes.  Serve with sauce over rice or couscous.

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