Holiday goose, turkey, duck. All great, but in another week or two, and we'll be happy to get back to that tried-and-true weeknight chicken. Good thing in Poulet: More than 50 Remarkable Meals that Exalt the Honest Chicken there is plenty of interesting poultry recipe fodder for anyone stuck in a 2011 roast chicken rut. As a bonus, if you're not sure you want to fire up the grill mid-winter for those chicken thighs covered in blistered BBQ sauce, the fantastic photographs by France Ruffenach will put an end to that debate.
Author Cree LeFavour focuses on cooking the whole bird or the dark meat -- you know, the good stuff -- and includes recipes for complete dinner hour side dish inspiration (creamy polenta and roasted fennel; roasted Shishito peppers and black sesame rice balls). In the second "Bistro Chicken" chapter you'll find chanterelle chicken over egg noodles with sautéed asparagus, along with a mustard-crusted chicken that she serves with fingerling potatoes and a Satsuma orange-fennel salad. Or maybe you feel more like lemon chicken with crispy sage, Korean fried chicken with sweet and spicy sauce or preserved lemon chicken with olives? Yes, please.
Which gets us to the one thing we're not fully keen on: The chapter organization. According to a press release, the recipes are organized by "flavor profile." That doesn't mean spices, herbs or rubs as we were expecting when we opened the book (say, a chapter with recipes featuring tomato-based chicken dishes, another with intensely flavored spices such as ginger or dried chile peppers).
Instead, "flavor profile" in Poulet essentially means cultural dividing lines -- something that works exceptional well if you're Paula Wolfert exploring The Food of Morocco in depth. But here, at times those recipe dividing lines come across as somewhat antediluvian.
For instance, the first chapter essentially defines "American Chicken" by using that phrase as the chapter title (fried chicken, chicken pot pie, chicken-fennel meatballs on angel hair with fresh tomato sauce). In the "Latin Chicken" chapter, there are some great recipes for chicken-goat cheese enchiladas and chicken tacos with black bean quinoa salad. All great, but why don't the very CalMex/TexMex enchiladas and tacos get to hang out at the same chapter dinner table with those Italian-American chicken-fennel meatballs in the "American Chicken" chapter? [Full disclosure: If it isn't already obvious, we watched The Help right before reviewing this book.]
Yeah, we're nitpicking about chapter/recipe organization for a Cookbook of the Week -- which means Poulet was great to begin with. Right. We'll stop babbling and let you get to your grocery list for this one pot coconut chicken recipe.
One-Pot Coconut Chicken
From: Poulet: More Than 50 Remarkable Meals That Exalt the Honest Chicken by Cree LeFavour.
Makes: 4 servings
One 2- to 4½-pound chicken
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 can (13.5 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
½ head garlic, cloves chopped
1 6-inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cups chopped bok choy
½ red or orange bell pepper, cut into bite-size chunks
½ pound shiitake mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed and coarsely chopped (about 5 cups)
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce (substitute soy sauce if necessary)
2 cups water
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
Flaky salt for finishing
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Set the chicken on the countertop for 30 minutes or so to take the chill off before cooking.
2. Heat the peanut oil in a 12-inch or larger cast-iron frying pan or a 5-quart or larger Dutch oven. Set the chicken in the pan and cook over medium heat until nicely browned on the sides and bottom, about 10 minutes. No need to brown the top. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off any excess fat in the pan.
3. Skim the fat from the top of the can of coconut milk and add the fat to the pan along with the garlic, ginger, bok choy, bell pepper, mushrooms and turmeric. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the bell pepper and mushrooms are soft and the garlic is fragrant. Stir in the fish sauce, coconut milk, and water. Return the chicken to the pot, breast-side up.
4. Put the chicken in the oven and braise, uncovered, for 30 minutes before either inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh or cutting into the thigh with a paring knife. The thermometer should register 175 degrees. If using a knife, look for clear, not red or pink, juices running from the spot where you pierce the meat and opaque, barely pink flesh at the joint. If the chicken isn't done, cook for 5 to 10 minutes longer and check it again.
5. When the chicken is done, remove the pan from the oven and let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before you carve it. (Do this right in the pan, if you can manage.) Pour the liquid from the pan into a fat separator. (You can also use a heatproof jar and use a spoon to skim off as much of the fat as possible.) Serve with jasmine rice, plenty of the sauce, the mint and cilantro, and a pinch of flaky salt.