Maybe if I hadn't seen Julie and Julia I wouldn't have picked it up to begin with, but it certainly wasn't the reason I brought home Mastering the Art of French Cooking. No, when I lifted the well-worn book, it fell open to the page on roast chicken and the first words I read were:
"You can always judge the quality of a cook or restaurant by roast chicken. While it does not require years of training to produce a juicy, brown, buttery, crisp-skinned, heavenly bird, it does entail such a greed for perfection that one is under compulsion to hover over the bird, listen to it, above all see that it is continually basted, and that it is done just to the proper turn."
A greed for perfection? I was completely won over, and the special, local bird I had been saving in the freezer to accompany my daughter's beloved coconut (which she's insisted on keeping in her room) in some sort of curry concoction, got immediately repurposed into a Julia Child roast chicken recipe.
My warning to you is that the recipe is long, and intimidating, but completely worth the effort. I think if you went only so far as step one, roasting the chicken, forewent all the other steps, and merely served a roasted chicken alongside a few, simply prepared veggies, it would still be worth it. But I'd encourage you to tackle the rest, if only because you get to light your pan on fire, and playing with fire is fun. I will caution, however, that if your stove top happens to be right next to a refrigerator decorated with pictures, inspiring quotes and children's artwork, you may want to take the time before torching your skillet to remove the valuables. It's just an idea.
It may seem lengthy, but I'm going to include Julia's full recipe, because her passion for the food comes through beautifully in the writing.
Please please please forgive the iPhone pictures. Of all the times to forget my camera in Chichester.
Poulet au Porto
(Roast Chicken Steeped with Port Wine, Cream, and Mushrooms)
Chicken, cream, and mushrooms occur again and again, as it is one of the great combinations. This perfectly delicious recipe is not difficult, but it cannot be prepared ahead of time or the chicken will lose its fresh and juicy quality. The chicken is roasted, then carved, flamed in cognac, and allowed to steep for several minutes with cream, mushrooms, and port wine. It is the kind of dish to do when you are entertaining a few good, food-loving friends whom you can receive in your kitchen.
A 3 lb. ready-to-cook roasting or frying chicken
1 lb. mushrooms
A 2 1/2 qt. enameled or stainless steel saucepan
1/4 c. water
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. whipping cream
1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch blended with 1 Tbsp of the cream
1/2 Tbsp minced shallots or green onions
1/3 c. medium-dry port
The mushroom cooking liquid
drops of lemon juice
A fireproof casserole or a chafing dish
1/4 cognac (I substituted brandy, as the budget wouldn't allow the purchase of a nice bottle of cognac. Maybe another time.)
Roast the chicken as described in the master recipe. (Julia's Roast Chicken (follow through Step 18))
Meanwhile, trim and wash the mushrooms. Quarter them if large, leave them whole if small.
Bring the water boil in the saucepan with 1/2 Tbsp. of the butter, lemon, and salt. Toss in the mushrooms, cover and boil slowly for 8 minutes. Pour out the cooking liquid and reserve.
Pour the cream and the cornstarch mixture into the mushrooms. Simmer for 2 minutes. Correct seasoning, and set aside.
When the chicken is done, remove it to a carving board and let it rest at room temperature while you complete the sauce.
Remove all but 2 Tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan. Stir in the shallots or onions and cook slowly for 1 minute. Add the port and the mushroom juice, and boil rapidly, scraping up coagulated roasting juices, until liquid has reduced to about 1/4 cup. Add the mushrooms and cream and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly. Correct seasoning and add lemon juice to taste.
Smear the inside of the casserole or chafing dish with butter (1 Tbsp.) Rapidly carve the chicken into serving pieces. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and arrange in the casserole or chafing dish.
Set over moderate hear or an alcohol flame until you hear the chicken begin to sizzle. Then pour the cognac over it. Avert your face, and ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole slowly until the flames have subsided. Then pour in the mushroom mixture, tilting the casserole and basting the chicken. Cover and steep for 5 minutes without allowing the sauce to boil. Serve.
(*) Chicken may remain in its casserole over barely simmering water or in the turned-off hot oven with its door ajar, for 10 - 15 minutes, but the sooner it is served, the better it will be.