In France, roast chicken is taken as seriously in the professional kitchen as it is in the home. Their basic approach is to select a young, free-range chicken, season it, brown it deeply in a heavy, deep casserole, then cover and roast in a medium-hot oven until it’s done. What could be easier? I’ve watched the process many times, and I’ve noticed that it is the small things that make the difference: a good fresh chicken, duck, or goose; fat or real lard for browning; good sea salt and freshly ground pepper; sometimes some other seasoning, like a little lemon or ginger, but just as often not. The chicken roasts with the cover askew so that the skin crisps (completely covered, the chicken will tend to steam). The chicken always rests for 5 minutes or so before carving so that all the juices can redistribute in the meat.
One of the great classic roast chicken recipes uses the pot roasting method and adds 40 cloves of unpeeled garlic (yes, 40) along with a little wine and whatever other vegetables you might like. As the garlic roasts, its pungent flavor is tamed and it becomes almost subtle, infusing everything with its sweet flavor. The chicken is brought to the table in its pot, which was traditionally sealed with a flour and water paste under the rim of the lid. When the seal was broken and the lid lifted, the room was filled with a fantastic bouquet. Though I lose that effect, I like to remove the lid for the last 15 minutes of roasting, to crisp and brown the skin.
Return the chicken to the casserole and add the pancetta, garlic cloves, bay leaves, stock, and wine. Cover tightly and
Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot, arrange them on a platter, and keep warm (covering it all with foil works fine). Discard the bay leaves and skim as much fat as possible from the juices left in the pot (it’s the clear liquid floating on top). Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables and the sauce on the side.
© 2004 John Ash. All rights reserved.