Roast chicken is a classic and beloved French dish, best eaten in a cozy bistro. Is there any dish quite so versatile? It's equally at home at a dinner party or for a family meal; and it's pretty hard to mess up. After our post last week, several readers requested a French chicken recipe, especially the one that loyal reader Frank mentioned in his comment: a rosemary chicken that he spent years perfecting. So, by request, Frank has graciously shared his recipe with us. And I will share my Lazy Roast Chicken recipe as well. Photo above: I think we can safely guess the specialty of this French bistro.
Frank and his wife first ate French rosemary chicken in Paris. “We have spent fifteen years trying to remember the bistro in Paris where we first had it,” he says, a dish he’s been able to duplicate after much experimenting. “I have no idea if this is how it was done in the bistro where we first ate it, but my wife says I got the taste correct and that is what matters.” They are going back to Paris soon. “Maybe we will find it this time,” Frank says. I tried his recipe this week, and it is indeed a remarkable chicken, full of flavor.
My French roast chicken is for lazy cooks, and not as complex as Frank’s. One key to a good roast chicken is to buy a free-range, organic chicken. I would never buy a factory-raised chicken; the animals suffer terribly, plus they shoot them up with antibiotics and Lord knows what else. Free-range chickens TASTE better, anyway.
Here’s my lazy roast chicken recipe: I rub my chicken with olive oil and lemon juice, plus sea salt and pepper, then I sprinkle it generously with herbes de Provence. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll slip some fresh basil leaves under the skin, and stuff an onion and/or celery leaves inside. I roast it at 450 (225C) for 20 minutes, then turn it down to 375 (175C) and cook until done. Photo: And when I'm really lazy, it's awfully hard to improve on a French rotisserie chicken from the market.
Epicurious has a recipe for French chicken in a pot, which they claim is the best. It’s slow cooked in the oven, but inside a dutch oven. For a different taste, try buttermilk brined roast chicken from Bon Appétit, which sounds more “Southern Fried" than French!
So, now you have many options for roast chicken, and more are welcome, please add yours in the Comments section. Best get cookin’!
RECIPE: Frank’s French Rosemary Chicken
"I start with a whole chicken which I brine in a one-half cup per gallon salt solution. I add to this a cup or two of water in which I have simmered a few stalks of rosemary which I have first “bruised” with a rolling pin, and then cooled. The chicken stays in the brine for at least twelve hours. Then I rinse it and air-dry it or paper towel dry it. I then take the bruised rosemary from the brine and stuff it into the chicken and truss up the legs and wings with string. I slip sprigs of more bruised rosemary under the strings and sprinkle the bird with finely chopped fresh rosemary petals and some finely ground pepper. If the weather permits I spit-roast the chicken letting the drippings fall into a pan of new potatoes. I keep the temperature of the covered grill to about 325-350°. It takes about an hour and a half or perhaps a bit more until the chicken begins to shrink from the leg and wing bones and the potatoes are cooked. In the nasty weather of winter I roast in the oven, again over a pan of new potatoes. The brined chicken will be impossibly tender. I am getting hungry thinking about."--Frank Levin
My Notes: Frank's chicken is delicious. I roasted lots of veggies with it when I made it. Be sure not to add extra salt when you roast it, the brine makes it plenty salty. Ditto on the broth you make with the bones.
A 3 lb (1.5 kg) chicken takes about 50 minutes to an hour in the oven, and longer if it's bigger. It's done when juices run clear and the legs move easily. Or use a thermometer, it should be 170F (74C) at mid-thigh. I often just cut into the breast to check for doneness. Let it rest 15 minutes before carving.
In the COMMENTS: Connie, we loved spending time with y'all as well. Liz, Harriet and Vicky, thanks for the idea for this week's post! Natalia, you are so right: in the states, portions can be gigantic, sort of the opposite of Nouvelle. Maybe that's why the French are slim?
Favorite READS: Francophiles, please check out our reader Lidy's blog and French antique store, French Garden House. Her site looks like a fancy French magazine, and I don't know where she finds such wonderful French antiques. At right: her wine stoppers, fashioned from vintage French door knobs.