A tribute to Julia

Casserole-roasted Chicken with tarragon

A foodie’s most anticipated movie opened last Friday. There were Julie/Julia parties, there were movie premiere galas and there was my own private tribute to one of the most inspiring women I, alas, never had the pleasure to meet. Prior to reading her memoir “My Life in France”, I had lumped Julia Child in the league of what we now know as the Food Network stars.
How wrong I was!
Her desire to learn how to cook when she was already at a mature age struck a chord of similarity in my own life. One of her most famous quotes “I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” made me smile – finally a great chef whose story is not “I learned how to cook while tugging along my mother’s/grandmother’s apron strings.” At age 32, even boiling water struck fear in my heart – no kidding! (See here for the story of how I began to cook, which coincidentally, started also with a roast chicken.)
So last Friday, I decided to make Julia’s casserole roasted chicken as part of a romantic candlelit dinner and movie date with the “Hungry” Hubby. I was not used to Julia Child’s method of presenting ingredients on the sidebar with the instructions alongside them; and I skipped over one important step which was trussing the chicken.
All throughout the browning stage for the chicken, I kept on thinking “Oh Julia, I think this recipe is meant for tall people” as I fumbled through the rotation of the fowl and tore the skin up on a couple of places. (Although I bet if I trussed the chicken like the recipe told me to I would have had an easier time with La poulet.)
After few minutes struggling with the chicken, I finally transferred it into the oven for final cooking. As the aroma of tarragon and roasting meat wafted from the oven, a revelation hit me: this was one of my Dad’s roast chicken! Did he use Julia Child’s recipe?!

My joy at this discovery was short-lived, when I checked my chicken at the hour mark, I was aghast to see that the torn skin had ridden up further and the tendons from the legs had separated – warning of an overcooked bird. I quickly took my thermometer and plunged it into the deepest part of the breast: 200 F!

“No, no, no! Not now, not today of all days!” My mind cried in horror as I had visions of the HH, having difficulty swallowing overly dry morsels of chicken. The chicken’s untrussed legs were in danger of falling off their sockets, the cavity was this huge gaping abyss staring at me, and it truly looked like the ugliest roast chicken I have ever seen. At that moment, I felt like Julia has abandoned me.

But in twitter I found solace. More than a couple of folks offered me words of encouragement when I started to question my ability to cook. My thanks to Lucy, Kamran and Kristina for preventing a total meltdown.

So now it was an hour before dinner. What do I do to keep the chicken from drying out further while keeping it warm in the oven? Julia was back in the kitchen with me and I could hear her voice saying: add more butter!

I rubbed butter over where the skin had shrunk and exposed the flesh of the chicken, covered it again with foil… and kept my fingers crossed.

And how did it taste?

Outstanding! It may not have been the best looking roasted bird, but I just loved that it tasted so familiar – the way tarragon so subtlety flavored the whole dish was like coming home to my dad’s kitchen. The leg was a bit dry but HH thought otherwise, and to me that was all that mattered. Because he is Paul to my Julia and I am the butter to his bread. Besides, didn’t Julia always say: “Never apologize…”

So with our bellies full, it was time to go watch “Julie and Julia” to feed our souls. 


Casserole-Roasted Chicken
Poulet Poele A L’Estragon

Estimated roasting time: 1 hour and 10 to 20 minutes for a 3-lb. bird.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

A 3-lb ready to cook roasting chicken
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
2 tbs. butter
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon

Season the cavity of the chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Insert the tarragon leaves, or sprinkle in dried tarragon. Truss the chicken. Dry it thoroughly and rub the skin with the rest of the butter.

2 tbs. butter
1 tbs. oil, more if needed
Set the casserole over moderately high heat with the butter and oil. When the butter foam has began to subside, lay in the chicken, breast side down. Brown for 2 to 3 minutes, regulating the heat so the butter is always very hot, but not burning. Turn the chicken on another side, using 2 wooden spoons or a towel. Be sure not to break the chicken skin. Continue browning and turning the chicken until it is a nice golden color almost all over, particularly on the breast and legs. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Add more oil if necessary to keep the bottom of the casserole filmed.

3 tbs. butter, if necessary
Remove the chicken. Pour out the browning fat if it has burned, and add the fresh butter.

1/2 cup sliced onions
1/4 cup sliced carrots
1/4 tsp salt
3 or 4 springs of fresh tarragon or 12 tsp dried tarragon

Cook the carrots and onions slowly in the casserole for 5 minutes without browning. Add the salt and tarragon.

1/4 tsp salt
A bulb baster
Aluminum foil
A tight-fitting cover for the casserole

Salt the chicken. Set it breast up over the vegetables and baste it with the butter in the casserole. Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the chicken, cover the casserole, and reheat it on the top of the stove until you hear the chicken sizzling. Then place the casserole on a rack in the middle level of the preheated oven.
Roast for 1 hour and 10 to 20 minutes, regulating heat so chicken is always making quiet cooking noises. Baste once or twice with the butter and juices in the casserole. The chicken is done when its drumsticks move in their sockets, and when the last drops drain from its vent run clear yellow.
Remove the chicken to serving platter and discard trussing strings.
Brown tarragon sauce

2 cups brown chicken stock, or 1 cup canned beef bouillon and 1 cup canned chicken broth
1 tbs. cornstarch blended with 2tbs. Madeira or port
2 tb. fresh minced tarragon or parsley
1 tbs. softened butter

Add the stock or bouillon and broth to the casserole and simmer for 2 minutes, scraping up coagulated roasting juices. Then skim off all but a tablespoon of fat. Blend in the cornstarch mixture, simmer a minute then raise heat and boil rapidly until sauce is lightly thickened. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more tarragon if you feel it necessary. Strain into a warmed sauceboat. Stir in the herbs and the enrichment butter

To serve:
Pour a spoonful of sauce over the chicken, and decorate the breast and legs with optional tarragon leaves. Platter may be garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley or if you are serving them – sautéed potatoes and broiled tomatoes.

For printer friendly recipe, click here.

Thoughts about the movie

What else can I say that has not been said about this movie? HH was not sure if he would like the entire film but he did! Meryl Streep, as expected, breathed life into the Julia I had only imagined from reading the book. And like everyone else, I wanted more of Julia than Julie, however, I must say I could identify with Julie Powell in that scene with the lobster. Inspirational is an overused word when describing this movie, but I cannot find a more appropriate term. So go watch it and be inspired!

Photo from Sony Pictures

32 thoughts on “A tribute to Julia

  1. Oh all I can think is smile, smile, smile! I’m so looking forward to this movie and so is Gorn even!
    What a great line: Because he is Paul to my Julia and I am the butter to his bread. Besides, didn’t Julia always say: “Never apologize…”
    Never apologize and besides no body else saw this near breakdown 😉

  2. Wonderful tribute! I have heard so many great things about the movie and I cannot WAIT to see it!!!! She truly was a hilarious and talented woman.

  3. You made my morning, I have to say that this is hilarious. Yes Julia’s recipes are tricky. We really have to follow directions and read everything. That must be something to remember the smell of your dad’s chicken. Great memories. I am linking this post on my blog under: See what other bloggers are cooking. Have a great day 🙂

  4. What a lovely tribute. How wonderful was Julia Child? I can’t wait to see the movie. I think I will have to watch it over and over again – like I have devoured My Life in France repeatedly! 🙂

  5. What a wonderful post! I think your bird looks highly delicious – the torn skin doesn’t matter to the taste, which to me is the most important element. A recipe for tall people – LOL.

  6. Hi Tanna – You will definitely smile when you go see the movie. And my motto right now in the kitchen is ” never apologize!”
    Thanks Erica – Julia Child is so full of life. I love her humour and her down to earth approach to great food.
    Thanks AbowlofMush – don’t you simply love the movie?
    Thanks Helene and thanks for including my post in your roundup. I already checked out the duck in pastry. Might try that one soon :).
    thanks Rosa!
    Thanks Julia – about to read the book for the 3rd time.
    Aw, thanks Cakelaw – I’m surprised that it turned out the way it did.
    Thanks T.W. – that was pretty stressful for a while there with forgetting to truss the chicken.

  7. Ah, it really was a great movie… I never go out and see movies, let alone right when they open, but I just couldn’t help myself. I’m so glad I didn’t wait! Definitely inspired me to get right back into the kitchen as soon as we left the theater, too. 🙂

  8. Phew! Thank you, Twitter!
    And what a sweet tribute to Julia! I adore her, but the last time I tried one of her recipes I failed miserably and now I’m scared to try again. But you’ve inspired me to give it another try!

  9. I’ve been meaning to read My Life in France. Maybe I’ll go pick up a copy today! Amazing what a little parsley can do to make a not-so-good-looking dish look wonderful!

  10. Hi Anh – It’s not about her recipes, it’s more as her as a force of nature. So much charisma, you will be so inspired once you read her life in France.
    Hi Hannah – We felt exactly the same way. I am even encouraged to sharpen my knife skills ‘ala Julia with the onions.
    Thanks Sophia – Julia’s recipes/methods in Mastering the art of French cooking is a bit different than what I am used to. You need to read it carefully as she gives a lot of tips. You can’t just skim over the recipe.
    Thanks Cynthia – The chicken turned out tastier than it looked and gave me a great feeling going into the movie.
    Hi Deanna- Saved by the well-placed parsley indeed! You have to read “My Life in France” !

  11. I too enjoyed the movie over the weekend. One of my favorite scenes was when Paul “attempted” to walk into the kitchen where Julia was chopping away feverishly, a mountain of onions beside her. I love how that scene showed us her determination in a way that also made us laugh out loud.
    –Your post is an authentic expression of what really happens in all of our kitchens at one time or another. I agree with Julia that we should never apologize.

  12. I agree, when it comes to cookign we should never apologize 🙂 love this chicken and tarragon tandem! i must admit i often only use rosemary with chicken, this herb sounds really good!

  13. Beautiful post! I love hearing about the step you skipped. It’s refreshing as a fellow food blogger to hear that one of my associates occasionally screws up. But that thought of “more butter”? Pure genius! You were definitely channeling Julia.

  14. Love this post! It never fails that when you most want things to turn out perfectly, they never do! I think your chicken looks beautiful anyway! It’s a great recipe and you did a great job with it! Glad “HH” liked it. That’s the important thing. 🙂

  15. I’m so looking forward to this movie (hopefully it gets to my shores soon!)! 🙂 I have lots of roast chickens that were less than beautiful but really delicious…and besides, HH and you enjoyed it! Which is what matters 🙂

  16. Debi – that’s my favorite part too! I can see myself doing that and the HH, cat and dog not wanting to be anywhere near the kitchen.
    Thanks Lucy – yes, now you know the whole story!
    Thanks danggit- you need to try tarragon. My SIL kept telling me to use it, you will be amazed how well it goes with chix.
    Thanks Bigboysoven!
    Thanks Fujimama – I screw up more than I care to admit ;). But it’s what we learn and how we deal with it that counts. And yes, I was in full Julia mode with the butter.
    Thanks Susan! HH really liked it and I was thrilled that he did!
    Hi Lydia – amen to that…Julia lives on which is why she is a national treasure!
    Hi Joey – roast chicken can be finicky unless you make it all the time. I love the Zuni roast chicken method and had consistent results with that. But I’m going to use tarragon on that next time. You will love the movie!

  17. i love the picture!
    love the glow that you captured.
    honestly i only bake cakes and all that.
    more of desserts and not food!
    tempting me to try this 😉
    don’t think this movie is out in singapore yet though!

  18. Awww, what a lovely tribute 🙂 It’s very interesting how it always happens; Murphy’s law always somehow finds its way into the kitchen the day we really want everything to be perfect! Looking at your photo, it’s hard to believe you were battling it in the oven! 😛

    I’ve read so many reviews of the movie; can’t wait for the movie to be released in Singapore.

  19. I just saw the movie tonight, while on a biz trip in SF (being in such a food town seems appropriate!) I just loved the movie! So great! And, as I live in metro Boston, had the honor of being stepped on once by Julia at a party in 1979 in Cambridge at her neighbor’s house! I haven’t ever made her chicken recipe (not yet! but the movie & your post make me want to try it right away!)… one of my favorite standby recipes is the Reine de Saba. I can’t wait to see the movie again!

  20. Finally saw Julie and Julia last month. It gives me an inspiration to cook again. And your post gives me the hope that there’s always an opportunity at very age when you lose it along the way.

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