Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Attempt 1

Last night marked my first attempt at making something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. One of the things I love about this book is that there’s generally a master recipe, a description, vegetable suggestions and wine suggestions which makes menu planning much easier. So for last night’s meal, it was mostly a matter of choosing a master recipe (several are also followed by variations), and which of the suggested veg I wanted along with it. The wine suggested was of course French. I wouldn’t say I ignored the suggestion, but since my local Whole Foods didn’t have an astounding selection of French wines, and I already had a bottle of pinot noir at home, I just went with my that to replace the suggested Bordeaux-Médoc or rosé.

So here’s the menu:
  • Poulet Rôti (Roast Chicken)
  • Gratin Dauphinois (Scalloped Potatoes with Milk, Cheese and a Pinch of Garlic)
  • Frozen Peas (prepared according to a recipe in the book)
  • Curvare Four Clone 2006 Pinot Noir

This was only the second time I attempted to roast a chicken. The first was two years ago and amounted to somewhat a disaster. The chicken wasn’t cleanly plucked (nasty), and I lived in an apartment with extremely sensitive and loud smoke detectors which I set off at least four times in one hour. Luckily, this attempt went off without a hitch, and yielded much better results.

First, the recipe calls for buttering the inside cavity of the chicken and sprinkling it with salt and pepper. Then you’re supposed to truss the chicken. Essentially, trussing is a way of tying the chicken up for roasting. However, the method in the book calls for something called a trussing needle–an eight-inch-long needle that can pierce the chicken carcass. I decided to pass, and ala a tip on The Julie/Julia Project blog, I trussed my chicken using the non-needle method outlined in the Joy of Cooking. Tying the chicken up wasn’t particularly difficult, but the method is different to that I used when I last roasted a turkey for Thanksgiving 2007. Needless to say, I wasn’t convinced I did it correctly.

Once the chicken is buttered and tied up, the outside is rubbed with butter, set in the pan, surround with sliced onion and carrot, and put it in the 425ºF oven to begin browning the skin. This requires a little bit of babysitting as you need to turn and baste the chicken every five minutes. I also learned an important tip at this stage: use a pan that’s just large enough to hold the chicken (in my case an 11×7-inch pan) so that the chicken won’t roll over when you turn it on it’s side. After the chicken has been turned from it’s breast side, to the left and finally to the right (and, of course, basted each time), you leave the chicken to roast on it’s right side for about half the remaining estimated roasting time, turn the oven down to 350ºF and continue to baste it every 8 to 10 minutes. After half the roasting time has passed, flip the chicken to it’s other side and continue basting at regular intervals. Finally, when there are 15 minutes left in the estimated roasting time, you flip the chicken breast-side-up, basting regularly as before.

Meanwhile, I assembled the Gratin Dauphinois. I highly suggested slicing the potatoes well in advance of beginning any cooking–or at least when you’re making a quick-cooking roast like chicken. I had to adjust the timing of the this recipe as a bit because when I planned the meal, I only noticed the initial 425ºF temperature for the chicken, not 350ºF final roasting temperature. Also, I didn’t have a flame-proof gratin dish, so I used a standard stoneware dish, and just increased the baking time. In the end, the Gratin Dauphnois cooked at 350ºF for about one hour. It still came out delicious and delicately browned on top.

Lastly, the frozen pea preparation was easy. It required bringing some chicken broth, a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of shallots to a boil. The the peas are added, boiled slowly for 5 to 6 minutes and finally boiled rapidly, uncovered until any remaining liquid has evaporated. This was easy enough to do while making the sauce for the chicken.

In all, I have to say this first meal from Mastering the Art of French Cooking was quite delicious. Everything was rich and butter. The chicken was very tender and juicy (probably some of the best I’ve every made, frankly), and I look forward to reusing the leftovers for the next few days to come.

Ooh, and the wine…the wine was fantastic. I was a little skeptical at first because my initial sniff test deemed the wine a little off. However, the taste was a million times better than the smell. The Curvare Four Clone pinot noir is a medium bodied, smooth wine. It picked up and melded great with the butter flavor of the chicken, potatoes and peas, and was great to sip on it’s own. For $20 a bottle at Costco (by the way, I picked this up per the suggestion of an employee at Costco), I say it’s probably one of the best bargain pinot noirs I’ve ever had.