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.
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
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
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!