The headnote to Dorie Greenspan‘s crazy-simple, unbelievably good ‘M. Jacque’s Armagnac Chicken’ begins “This recipe, une petite merveille (a little marvel), as the French would say...”. The recipe IS une merveille, taking almost no work to make, with the most ordinary of ingredients, yielding spectacular results, as we discovered when cooking dinner for friends the other night. Chicken and vegetables cook at once so you only need serve a salad and a great dessert (We recommend Sally’s chocolate cake.) We only got as far as photographing “the before”, above. All thought taking an “after” fell by the wayside with the heavenly aroma of the finished dish, and very good wine. We found a picture of the finished dish at Bake Away With Me.
The recipe is, very simply, a life essential; have it in your head and you’re covered for life.It is worth investing in a bottle of Armagnac to have on hand just to whip together this dish (we used the less expensive Bas Armagnac). The recipe is from ever-trustworthy Dorie’s wonderful book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours, as reprinted from the New York Times.
Recipe: M. Jacques’s Armagnac Chicken
This recipe, une petite merveille (a little marvel), as the French would say, was given to me years ago by Jacques Drouot, the maître d’hôtel at the famous Le Dôme brasserie in Paris and an inspired home cook. I’ve been making it regularly ever since. It’s one of those remarkable dishes that is comforting, yet more sophisticated than you’d expect (or really have any right to demand, given the basic ingredients and even more basic cooking method).
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
8 small thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 carrots, trimmed, peeled and thickly sliced on the diagona
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 thyme sprig
1 rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1 chicken, about 3½ pounds, preferably organic, trussed (or wings turned under and feet tied together with kitchen string), at room temperature
½ cup Armagnac (Cognac or other brandy)
1 cup water.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. You’ll need a heavy casserole with a tight-fitting cover, one large enough to hold the chicken snugly but still leave room for the vegetables. (I use an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven.)
Put the casserole over medium heat and pour in the oil. When it’s warm, toss in the vegetables and turn them around in the oil for a minute or two until they glisten; season with salt and white pepper. Stir in the herbs and push everything toward the sides of the pot to make way for the chicken. Rub the chicken all over with salt and white pepper, nestle it in the pot, and pour the Armagnac around it. Leave the pot on the heat for a minute to warm the Armagnac, then cover it tightly — if your lid is shaky, cover the pot with a piece of aluminum foil and then put the cover in place.
Slide the casserole into the oven and let the chicken roast undisturbed for 60 minutes.
Transfer the pot to the stove, and carefully remove the lid and the foil, if you used it — make sure to open the lid away from you, because there will be a lot of steam. After admiring the beautifully browned chicken, very carefully transfer it to a warm platter or, better yet, a bowl; cover loosely with a foil tent.
Using a spoon, skim off the fat that will have risen to the top of the cooking liquid and discard it; pick out the bay leaf and discard it too. Turn the heat to medium, stir the vegetables gently to dislodge any that might have stuck to the bottom of the pot, and add the water, stirring to blend it with the pan juices. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens ever so slightly, then taste for salt and pepper.
Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables and sauce.
Serving: You can bring the chicken to the table whole, surrounded by the vegetables, and carve it in public, or you can do what I do, which is to cut the chicken into quarters in the kitchen, then separate the wings from the breasts and the thighs from the legs. I arrange the pieces in a large shallow serving bowl, spoon the vegetables into the center, moisten everything with a little of the sauce and then pour the remainder of the elixir into a sauce boat to pass at the table.
Storing: I can’t imagine that you’ll have anything left over, but if you do, you can reheat the chicken and vegetables — make sure there’s some sauce, so nothing dries out — covered in a microwave oven.
Bonne idée: Armagnac and prunes are a classic combination in France. If you’d like, you can toss 8 to 12 prunes, pitted or not, into the pot along with the herbs. If your prunes are pitted and soft, they might pretty much melt during the cooking, but they’ll make a sweet, lovely addition to the mix.
Editor’s Note: We salted and peppered the chicken the night before as a good amount of time lets the salt permeate to the bone, seasoning the bird throughout. Helpful but not essential.