Julia Child’s Chicken Bonne Femme

It is hard to imagine how dull home cooking must have been before Julia Child came along in 1961 with her ground breaking cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  She was able to use her extensive knowledge of a foreign cuisine and make it accessible to people who believed that anything exotic was beyond their capabilities.  The profound affect she had on home cooking will continue to resonate for generations to come.

August 15, 2012 would have been Julia’s 100th birthday and in honor of her, I chose to cook this classic one-pot meal from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.  Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme is the fancy name for this dish which is just a pot-roasted whole chicken with potatoes, onions and bacon.  I made this using a large (7-quart) Le Creuset dutch oven which allowed for an easy transition from stove top to oven.  If you don’t have an oven safe pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, you can do all the browning in a skillet and transfer the chicken to a large baking dish (either Corningware with a glass lid or a 9-x13-inch baking dish covered tightly with foil).  The recipe states that you should brown the chicken for a rather lengthy time, 12-15 minutes per side.  Please don’t skimp on this since the chicken will not brown at all in the oven.  Chicken Bonne Femme is French cooking at it’s simplest and quite possibly it’s tastiest.  Finally, I’ll leave you with a classic quote from Julia…..

“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.”

4 oz. bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 chicken, 3 1/2 – 4 pounds
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 of a 14-ounce bag of frozen pearl onions, thawed
1 – 1 1/2 pounds small red or yellow potatoes, all about the same size
4 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat and cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and it crisps up.  Remove the bacon and set aside.  Pour off all but one tablespoon of the fat and add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, place the chicken breast side down in the pot.  Let the chicken brown for 12-15 minutes, reducing the heat to medium low if the butter becomes too brown.  Carefully turn the chicken over using a set of tongs.  Brown the other side for an additonal 12-15 minutes.  Remove the chicken and set aside.  Pour off all the fat that remains in the pot.

Place the chicken into the middle of the Dutch oven breast side up.  Add the potatoes around the outside of the chicken in an even layer.  Tuck the bay leaf in-between some of the potatoes.  Place the bacon, pearl onions and parsley on top of the potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and the dried thyme.  Cover the pot with a piece of aluminum foil large enough to seal the pot and then add the lid on top.  Place into the preheated oven and roast for 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes.  The chicken will be done when the juices in the cavity run clear and an instant read thermometer inserted into the thigh joint reads 165 – 170 degrees.

Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and let it rest on a carving board for 10 minutes.  Scoop out the vegetable into a serving dish and discard the bay leaf and parsley.  Pour the liquid from the pot into a fat separator and let sit about 5 minutes.  Carve the chicken into 8 – 10 pieces.  Serve with the defatted pan sauce and the vegetables.

Serves 4 – 6

adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck

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