Whenever someone asks me how to cook: a) simply; b) seasonally; and c) sustainably - and all in the face of cold climes - one of the recipes that come to mind is chicken and vegetables cooked in a clay pot. Here, in fact, is my top 10 countdown for reasons to make this dish:
#10: It starts with a whole, locally raised, organic chicken instead of factory-farmed, big-box poultry parts.
#9: The recipe is so easy, so doable that even the late I Hate to Cook author Peg Bracken would have liked it.
#8: Terracotta cookery has stood the test of time - it's not just old-fashioned, it's Neolithic. The natural, porous material imparts a (literally) earthy savor to food.
#7: It's more than a recipe; it's a style of dish that can be varied in myriad ways. Change the herbs. Change the veggies. Change the bird.
#6: No need to preheat the oven. (Clay pots go in when the oven goes on, so that they heat up gradually, to prevent cracking).
#5: It's fast food (takes 15-20 minutes to put together) - but it cooks slow. Which means that you can, as the meal cooks, make a salad, set the table and still kick back with a glass of wine before dinner is served.
#4: All the nutrients and juices stay locked in the vessel (read: less fat, more flavor, more health).
#3: Like wood floors, clay pots have character. They're a beauty to behold (and they clean up well).
#2: The aroma and warmth coming from the kitchen are knee-buckling wonderful.
#1: And the number one reason to make clay pot chicken and vegetables...the leftovers.
Clay Pot Chicken and Vegetables
- 1 whole organic chicken (4-5 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon (Meyer lemon if available)
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 large carrot, peeled, cut in half crosswise then quartered lengthwise
- 1 fresh fennel stalk (not the bulb, although you could
- use that instead), cut into 3-4 pieces, then cut like the carrots
- salt and pepper
Soak a large clay pot in water at least 30 minutes. (If the bottom portion is glazed you only need to soak the cover.) Do not turn on the oven yet.
Remove neck and other parts from chicken cavity; rinse chicken. Freeze the neck (for stock) or cook it with the chicken. Save the liver (for breakfast). Discard the rest (or cook it and feed it to a deserving pet or gizzard-eating spouse).
Mix olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and herbs. Toss with onion, garlic, carrots and fennel. Place a third of the veggies inside chicken cavity and a third of them on bottom of clay pot. Rub your hands all around the remaining veggies and the inside of the bowl and then rub your hands around the outside of the chicken - to transfer oil and herbs to the skin. Generously salt and pepper the chicken inside and out. Place it over the veggies in the pot. Arrange remaining veggies around chicken.
Cover tightly with soaked lid. Place in cold oven. Turn oven on to 475 degrees. Chicken will be done in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Open the lid carefully, pointing the opening away from you so you don't get "steamed." Pour liquids in the pot into a saucepan. Return chicken, uncovered, to the oven to let it brown while you make the sauce.
Skim surface fat off the liquid in the saucepan. Bring to simmer. Mix a few tablespoons flour in a jar with a few tablespoons water; this is called a slurry. Cover and shake it well. Whisk some of the slurry into the simmering sauce. Simmer about 10 minutes, adding more slurry to reach desired thickness. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.
Serve chicken on a platter surrounded with veggies. Pass the sauce. Makes 6 servings plus leftovers.