What promised to be a dish of easy sophistication can sometimes backfire into a string of complications. Around My French Table has a recipe for M. Jacques Armagnac Chicken involving roasting a whole chicken and vegetable with the pricey spirit inside a dutch oven. The goal is that the chicken stays juicy yet everything is infused with the taste of Armagnac. Seems easy enough, no? Not so fast. It’s a golden rule in cooking that when you trade off complexity, your ingredients better be of exceptional quality to stand up to the spotlight.
As a regular shopper at farmers market, I am confident in the quality of my potatoes, carrots, onions, and chestnuts. My first obstacle was getting a good chicken. Quite simply put, I vote with my money. Over the last few years, I’ve been feeling more uneasy about my food living a life of captivity before landing on my plate. Long story short, I needed to get a free-run chicken for the recipe. Luckily, a quick jaunt to Whole Foods got me a $16 roaster already cleaned and trussed.
Next was Armagnac. For ten years, I’ve carefully avoided any recipes calling for this pricy spirit. I come from a family of non-drinkers and shelling out $50 for a full size bottle is definitely out of the budget. I was ready to roast my chicken with either Grand Marnier or Poire Williams, both of which I use on a regular basis. My nagging suspicion is that the flavour would be jarring so I dropped by the liquor store in hopes to find reasonably priced substitute. What do you know? They do carry 200mL bottle of Cognac! Obviously it is not the kind I would serve as post-dinner tipple but for all intents and purposes, it would do. That would be $18 please.
Obstacle #3 was my treasured dutch oven. The recipe calls for roasting at 450F for an hour. I had a hunch that the plastic knob on the lid cannot stand up to such heat. I dug around my basement and somehow managed to locate the owner’s manual that came with the pot (over ten years ago!!). I was right! 400F is the manufacturer’s recommendation. I removed the knob just to be on the safe side and plugged the hole with a wad of aluminum foil. It was a little tricky to lift the lid when my chicken finished roasting.
I had high hopes of a nicely browned chicken because that was exactly what the recipe promised. Once the Cognac steam cleared, what greeted my eyes was this:
Pale, pale, pale chicken! It was juicy and perfectly done for sure (I checked with thermometer). But the colour! What colour?! I could have claimed my chicken was steamed and be totally convincing. Words could not begin to describe my disappointment.
With a spoonful of honey in one hand and a blow torch in the other, I set to work. I carefully lifted the chicken to a large baking sheet and glazed it all over with honey. Burn, baby, burn! The skin bubbled and sizzled and crisped under my flame. It’s amazing how much satisfaction a bit of pyrotechnic brought to this determined cook.
I must give credit to Greenspan for the use of Armagnac/Cognac in this recipe. The chicken, potato, carrot, onion, and best of all, chestnuts were all perfumed with the sophisticated flavour of this spirit. However, my trouble with this recipe is not over just yet. In spite of my cooking and baking experience, I am carving-challenged. My usual way of carving involves some violent manoeuvre with the poultry shears. For some reasons, I just can’t locate the joints no matter how hard I try. It is my dream that one day I can carve a chicken with finesse in front of dinner guests. Today, I took one step closer to that dream.
Since I was in no hurry to serve the meal, I carefully felt around the chicken in search of the thigh joint. Suffice to say it was not where I expected it to be. No wonder I never managed to cleanly separate the legs from the body before! A bit of wrestling and confusion later, I somehow mangled the chicken into four equal pieces with neat cuts. I only hope I can repeat this success.
Now that you heard my tale, you understand why it was not an easy recipe for me by any means. Perhaps other French Fridays with Dorie bloggers have better experience making this dish? Read on! The original recipe is available here at the bottom of the article.