Muriel’s Chicken Recipe

Le Poulet de Muriel

Cookbook writing guidelines tell you that naming a recipe after someone is not a good idea: it doesn’t tell the reader much about the ingredients or the process, the reader doesn’t know this person, and frankly, the reader doesn’t really care. This is all true of course, but I have a certain fondness for those recipes that sound like they were found in some old handwritten recipe book — la Carpe farcie façon Hortense, le Boudin du Père Thibault, le Pain d’épices de Célestine* — and although I promise not to make it a habit, I really wanted to name this particular dish after the person who inspired it.

A few weeks ago, Maxence and I spent a glorious day visiting friends of his mother’s in the Perche region, a two-hour drive to the south-west of Paris (less if you’re the speeding type). Le Perche is the essence of the French countryside — I’m pretty sure it is what the language guys had in mind when they invented the word “picturesque” — and as soon as we got off the freeway and started driving through the bocage (hedged farmland), I could feel my shoulders relaxing and my breaths deepening.

Our hosts welcomed us warmly into their beautiful house — I want one just like that when I grow up — and a simple glance around the kitchen made me feel confident that lunchtime would bring very good things. And indeed, after a salad of perfect tomatoes from the vegetable patch (oh, the joy of living a cliché), we dug into the centerpiece of the meal: a farm-raised chicken so big it could have easily been admitted into some select turkey association.

The chicken came from a nearby farm, where one buys the chicks at birth and pays for their food, lodging, and education until they are plump enough to return the favor, at least for the food part. Muriel, the lady of the house, had slow-baked it in one of those clay pots from Alsace and Germany called Römertopf with whole garlic cloves, a quartered lemon, and fresh herbs from the garden. Maxence took care of the carving (he seems to be the appointed chicken carver wherever we go, it is such a useful skill to possess) and the platter of chicken parts was brought to the garden table with sides of mashed potatoes and green beans, and a saucière (gravy boat) of golden brown cooking juices, in which the softened garlic cloves were paddling about, ready to have their pungent-sweet pulp smooched out and used as a condiment.

That chicken was hands-down the best I’ve ever had. Muriel was happy to share the recipe, and I soon reproduced it with my very own larger-than-life chicken bought from the farmers’ market, an organic lemon, pink garlic, and herbs that Muriel had snipped for us to take home (along with a few ceps, a crate of tomatoes, and a bushel of plums from their overloaded tree). I don’t own a clay pot yet — rest assured this will be fixed on my next trip to Alsace — so I used the largest of my cast-iron cocottes instead.

I have trouble deciding whether my chicken was as stupendous as Muriel’s — a dish that someone else has made for you always feels more magical — but it was pretty close, and I have a feeling that le poulet de Muriel will make frequent appearances on our menu. It is an extremely easy and foolproof recipe (since the chicken cooks in its own steam and at such a low temperature, there is no risk of it overcooking or drying out) and all you really need is good ingredients and time.

* These recipes are quoted from a book called Recettes gourmandes du Poitou-Charentes by Francis Lucquiaud, a collection of the author’s grandmothers’ recipes.

Le Poulet de Muriel

1 large free-range chicken, about 2 kilos (4 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fine sea salt, freshly ground pepper
1 large head garlic
1 organic lemon, cut in four quarters
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Rub the skin of the chicken with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper on all sides, tie the legs together, and place the animal, breasts-side up, in a clay pot or cast-iron cocotte large enough to accommodate it. Peel the outer layers off the head of garlic to separate the individual cloves — don’t peel the cloves themselves. Arrange the cloves, lemon, and herbs around the chicken.

Put the lid on, slip the pot in the cold (not preheated) oven, and turn the oven on to 150°C (300°F). Bake for three hours, or until cooked through (if you have a meat thermometer, insert it in the inner part of a thigh: the chicken is done when the thermometer registers 82°C / 180°F), basting the chicken with its own juices every 45 minutes or so. If the skin of the chicken is still rather pale, remove the lid, turn the oven up to 220°C (440°F) or switch to the grill mode, and put the pot back in for 20 to 30 minutes, watching it closely, until the chicken is nicely golden.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, carve the different serving parts, and transfer to a warm serving dish (pour very hot water from the kettle into it and let stand as you cut the chicken). Transfer the juices, herbs, and cloves to a gravy boat, and serve immediately, with green beans and mashed potatoes.

  • http://vegboxdiary.wordpress.com gastropunk

    I like the idea of baking a whole chicken slowly with the lid on. Sounds like it would end up very moist. Up to now I’ve always roasted mine open on a high heat. Will need to invest in a large cast-iron cocotte before trying this. Great photo, too.

  • http://tascadaelvira.blogspot.com/ Elvira

    Qu’il est appétissant! :-)

  • http://www.my3loves.blogspot.com EmmaC

    I feel that cooking a whole chicken (or turkey for that matter) is one of those culinary rites of passage every home cook must eventually face. I’ve felt it looming on my horizon for some time now, and I think this recipe might have just pushed me into the ‘no turning back’ phase. Wish me luck!

    P.S. Given the low heat and long cooking time, I feel this recipe could be perfectly adapted to be done in a slow cooker. Pas si romantique, peut etre, but good for us 9-5 working gals who love coming home to the smell of roasted chicken!

  • Swan

    I happen to own a beautiful old Römertopf, never used since it lives in my house, this might be the perfect recipe to start using it. It sounds, and looks, very beautiful and yummie.
    Thanks!

  • http://www.cforcooking.com Jeff

    Hehehe…”chicken education”, is there a “No chick left behind” policy?

  • http://labonnecuisine.wordpress.com GGLondon

    YUMMM!

    We roast a lot of chickens, usually on Sundays, and usually stuffed. This summer though even gave us the opportunity to barbecue a few chickens (and ducks for that matter), where we stuffed them with lemon.

    I look forward to trying this out in big le creuset this weekend. Thanks!

  • Always Ace

    I actually have a smaller-size Romertopf that my boyfriend’s mother gave me just about a year ago, when I finally started cooking on my own… (I’m a late bloomer!) She was German… She told me how easy and convenient it was to use, and how it would maintain the moisture so well. I’ve used it numerous times since then, although most of the time I cook the chicken or pintade (which are lovely in this dish as well!) for about an hour on a higher temperature. This slow-cooking process sounds even better, and what wonderful, classic, delicious-sounding ingredients to add: fresh rosemary and thyme, and of course delicious garlic cloves! I can’t wait to try this!

  • http://secretingredients.blogspot.com KateW

    Wow, just reading this recipe and about your visit to the countryside makes me warm and fuzzy!

  • Christy

    I think roasted chicken is the ultimate comfort food. Love it, no matter how it’s made – even the $5.99 variety from the corner supermarket. I wanted one this weekend, but we are out of my favorite mustard and a roast chicken is not a roast chicken without a nice sharp mustard to go with it!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://definitelynotmartha.blogspot.com mrbunsrocks

    This looks fabulous! And I had never even thought of buying a clay pot! What a wonderful (and frugal) alternative to the Le Creuset stuff I have been coveting but can’t make myself buy….

    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……

  • Jake

    Looks great. How did the skin turn out? A good crisp skin is my favorite part of a roast chicken. Did the skin crisp even at such a low temperature?

  • Jerrick

    Argh, to be living in France and having the joys of the perfect free-range chicken. It almost makes me want to run away from home and join a roving troupe of French performers or something.

  • chucha

    clotilde,
    do you put anything inside the chicken? (ie stuff it with more cloves of garlic and lemon?) and is there any use for the chicken innards?
    looks delicious! i am anxious to try it!

  • Stephanie

    That is QUITE beautiful.

    So, a question:

    if given the choice between a clay oven (the more economical choice) and a cocotte (stellar, I’m sure, but more expensive) for roasting things such as chickens, etc, which would you choose and why? Does one yield better results over the other or have an advantage?

  • http://deliciouspundit.blogspot.com Delicious Pundit

    Maybe I’ll try it in my trusty Lodge dutch oven. Or is that a bad idea?

  • http://www.aminglingoftastes.com Julie

    The name of this recipe is absolutely charming–no complaints here! The ingredient list sounds very much like my simple roast chicken, but the method is wonderful and must certainly result in a very succulent bird. I will try this, and I hope I can find a very good quality chicken although it will certainly not be as fresh as Muriel’s!

  • rainey

    I love my well-used Römertopf. But, surely, Muriel soaked bottom and lid in water for at least 15 minutes before she put the chicken in. Part of what makes it so effective is that the steam that the moist, porous clay gives off in the initial phase helps enhance the moisture of the cooked food.

    It’s also wonderful for bread for exactly the same reason.

  • rainey

    I should add that she may well have removed the lid for the final 15 minutes or so of cooking so that the direct heat could brown the skin attractively.

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    I made a roast chicken this week-end without a special pot and it was really great. It is just hard to beat the flavor. I stuffed some garlic cloves inside the chicken, put quartered onions around it and then poured in about 1/2 cup of wine. It made the best sauce. Add mashed potatoes and you have heaven on a plate. However, I think I will keep my eyes opened for one of those pots.

  • http://kitchenmusings.typepad.com/ Veronica

    Ooooh that looks so good Clotilde !I too, just roasted a chicken this weekend. I set it at 350 F covered for 1 1/2 hours and 400 for the remain 1/2 hour and it was literally falling apart. I poured saffron-infused water around it and stuffed it with garlic cloves and onions. I salted it overnight thoug. I just featured it on my blog. I do want to try the Muriel recipe with a clay pot… I think I’m going to be buying the Romertopf .

  • Deo

    Made almost this same recipe in a newly-acquired Romertopf last weekend–but used a pork shoulder roast instead of the chicken, seared it a bit first, and added some chicken stock and white wine to the pot before cooking. Herbs and garlic were same.

    Great results; I’m looking forward to trying it with chicken.

  • Sarah Marie

    I usually stuff my chicken with halves of an onion, a couple carrots, and some celery before putting it in my Romertopf. Might impart some different flavors than Muriel’s recipe, but the flavors are divine. I have also put sweet or white potatoes, halved, around the chicken, if the bird is small enough to accommodate them. The vegetable stuffings also serve to keep the breast of the bird from caving in. In any case, I plan to try this recipe soon!

  • http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com ParisBreakfasts

    Your mention of “naming a recipe after someone” made me think of my first Tarte Tatin (named after les soeurs Tatin) and the story of that fragrant chicken made me want to forage for the leftover bird in the fridge — these stories are too, too addictive

  • http://www.blueVicar.com blueVicar

    The melding of observation and memory–perfect in the replication of a delicious dish from a special place. Your recipe and reflections on the presentation of it activate my recollections chicken dishes learned at the table of others…they also activate my salivary glands…truly the mark of a good story!

    Meilleurs vœux!

  • Marjolijn Hendriksen

    Everyone please note to always soak your Römertopf dish in cold water before putting it in the oven! This makes the chicken extra moist and juicy!
    Bon appetit!

  • http://www.willows95988.typepad.com tongue in cheek

    Oh my what a relief, I thought you were going to say the chicken was grown by Muriel!

  • cris

    clay versus cast iron the n=benefit of cast iron it can go on the stove or in the oven but if you are looking for some clay po try la verrie des halles rue du louvre 75001across from dehillerin (see archives).chicken on the spit is great too.

  • http://www.foodsource-krista.blogspot.com krista

    As long as I can remember my mother always made Roasted Chicken every Sunday. Now that I am married I cook chicken on Sundays. I love it.

  • suzy

    Thanks for reminding me of the virtues of cooking in the Romertopf! I had forgotten all about the thing. I’ll make this soon!

  • http://www.housingandconstruction.blogspot.com Ernesto

    The low temperature is ingenious – patience required, but the result is phenomenal.

  • http://www.eatingcolorado.typepad.com Cyn

    Clotilde,

    Wow, this chicken looks as amazing as you’ve described it. We’ve got free-range chickens in the States, but definitely nothing compared to what you’ve got there (oh, mais oui!) I also really like the simplicity of the lemon and garlic… perfect.

    I’m curious, though, mainly about the skin. I know when it’s oven-roasted open with a high heat in the beginning, the skin becomes crispy and the inside moist. Did you eat the skin on this one and is that “done” in France, in general? I know most Americans hate the idea of eating the skin of anything.

  • http://singadventure.blogspot.com venitha

    Cookbook writing guidelines? Who knew there was such a thing. And that they were so wrong! I love recipes named after someone, from a good friend’s “Gramma’s dessert” to my own “Martha Stewart’s Mac N Cheese”. =)

  • veron

    I know what you mean venitha, I say give credit where credit is due which is what I’m going to do once I post my boss’ mother-in-law’s recipe called “Mrs. Bailey’s Potroast”

  • http://culinarytypes.blogspot.com T.W. Barritt

    I recently learned that many of the great French dishes were named after individuals, including Sauce Bechamel and Peach Melba. So, by honoring Muriel, you are carrying on a venerable culinary tradition!

    http://culinarytypes.blogspot.com

  • http://www.averagebetty.com Average Betty

    Your experience in the countryside sounds magical… this California girl has GOT to get to Paris one day!

    Have you asked Muriel about naming the dish after her? I bet she doesn’t mind:)

    I have had the interesting pleasure of friends naming my creations for me… which, can make one feel very silly sometimes.

    Keep up the great blogging and congrats on 3 years!

  • richard

    whata beauty!

  • http://pintsizedcookery.blogspot.com mujeresliebres

    That does look yummy. Although I like starting my chicken hot to get the skin browned (I also brine though). I also think a good Dutch oven would work as well, although it wouldn’t have the bumps on the lid.

  • http://sustainablefoodie.blogspot.com/ Kirsten

    It sounds delicious, but I’m not sure I’m grown up enough yet to try roasting an entire chicken.

  • http://esterkitchen.canalblog.com Ester

    Well, my mother-in-law gives me her Romertopf, but my oven is too small ! If you want, I can lend it to you, if you want to make further experiments…

  • jane nora

    Only the garlic and the herbs from my garden were organic, when I used this receipe to cook a supermarket half turkey breast. It was quite quite delectable. Used my old enamlled iron pot. It took about two hours to cook weighing nearly 1 kilo. One thing I will do differently is to peel the lemon, as there was a slight bitter taste to the juice.

  • Liz Thomas

    This is amazing! My mother, who passed away in April this year, was called Muriel.

    A few days ago I was in a restaurant and there was a wine on the wine list called Muriel. Now I have a chicken recipe to go with it.

    Thanks, I enjoy your blog very much

    Liz

  • kathy

    I think it’s hard to ruin chicken if the raw chicken itself is good quality. Chicken completely unadorned, thrown in a hot oven or even a slow oven, will come out all right if you know how to judge when it is done. It is very elementary cooking and elementary taste. That said, I think this recipe for chicken will be Yummy simply if you use a clay pot. I have a few (they always turn up at yard sales) and they make a moist and tender meat every time! Lamb hot pot is something that really surprised me – just lamb, onion, potatoes and some salt and pepper – cooked in a clay pot, it is delicious.

  • Jackie in SF

    I’ve read your blog for a long time now and have wanted to try many of the recipes you’ve posted, but for some reason I haven’t (too much the armchair cook?). Well, today I made this chicken recipe in my 5-qt. Le Creuset covered casserole. I didn’t have a whole head of garlic on hand, so I cut up three small onions instead. Otherwise I did as told, and the result was fantastic. I’ve never thought to make a whole chicken this way–it’s the same concept as preparing osso buco or braised lamb shanks, i.e., cooking a long time in the oven at a low temperature. The texture of the meat has the same silky quality, and I love that because the pot stays covered, cleanup is minimal (vs. roasting a chicken). Thanks for sharing this brilliant idea! I can’t wait to make it again.

  • jean-Louis

    I’d like to suggest some minor variation: before rubbing your chicken with olive oil, try mixing a few drops (a teaspoonfull) of “pastis” with the oil…it takes you from Perche straight down to Provence.

  • Max Million in LA

    ^ jean-Louis — funny you should mention the addition of alcohol. On impulse I decided the chicken needed a splash of Cointreau, even though Clotilde’s simple ingredients are the same as the ones I employ when I roast a chicken.

    My ‘Muriel’ turned out exceptionally well (cooked for two hours in a glass casserole dish, sealed with foil).

    I reheated the leftovers by putting the whole thing back in the oven. But I detected a strong and bitter presence of the lemon rind that was not there previously. I strenuously recommend removing the lemon pieces before reheating.

    This was the first time I had ever slow-baked a chicken and I was thrilled with the results. Clotilde, I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to the publication of your cookbook next year.

    p.s. To Jackie in SF — I, too, am a long-time reader, first-time poster! I figure if this one worked so phenomenally well, the other recipes surely will also!

  • Jackie in SF

    To Max Million in LA: I’ve made the recipe two more times now. On the third try, I didn’t have a lemon on hand, so I left it out. After degreasing the sauce, I found that it could be used to flavor other things I cooked because it didn’t have the bitterness from the lemon (I kept the jelly in a jar and used it over a few days). I had considered adding some white wine, so next time I make this dish I will do that or, as you did, try Cointreau. Fun to experiment, isn’t it? :-)

  • http://laurelines.typepad.com Laura

    I’m going spelunking in one of my deep cupboards today to unearth my Romertopf and will make this roast chicken, thanks to your wonderfully inspiring and appetizing post!

  • Gerry

    Will try chicken a la Muriel this weekend. Looks great.
    Have you guys ever tried spatchcocked chicken? That’s chicken flattened out (backbone removed),marinated in olive oil,lemon juice and herbs,roasted breast side up in open pan at 400 degrees (F) for one hour. Crisp skin, Juicy body,simply yums.

  • http://www.BeforeKids.com Abby

    I made this last night – it was delicious! My whole family loved it! Thank you for such a great recipe.

  • Job

    Chere Clotilde!

    Last saturday i wrestled myself through IKEA and stumbled over a Romertopf. And somehow i remembered you wrote something about chicken in a romertopf and about you not having one. Maybe you don’t want to spend a fortune on it (cause in my case it a typical use once or twice and bury it in a cupboard kinda item ;-) ) and don’t want to wait until your next trip to the Alsace, so this might come in handy!

    Keep up the good work and can’t wait to have your book delivered!

    Job

  • Ben

    I’m not quite yet adventurous enough to try the clay pot option, but am instead considering investing in a cast iron cocotte. Should a 5 quart size be sufficient?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Job – Thanks for the tip!

    Ben – A 5-quart pot would only be ok for small chickens. I have a 7-quart oval cocotte by Staub, and I like its versatility.

  • A California Fan

    Hi Clotilde,
    I just made this Poulet de Muriel for the first time. Absolutely awesome. My husband demanded I write and tell you it is indisputably the best chicken he has tasted in his life (long compared to yours). He dislikes eating chicken because he appreciates so much the live chickens at the barn where he rides his horse. But this one was clearly worth the sacrifice. I agree. Thank you for a lovely dish! –A California fan

  • John Deamer

    Speaking of dusty old family recipe books, check out this one…

    CANDELARIA’S COOKBOOK. A scruffy folder, faintly typed and badly eaten by mice, was discovered in the bottom drawer of an ancient roll-top desk in a house on Lake Chapala.

    It turned out to be a collection of recipes, lovingly transcribed sixty years ago by an English writer, Dane Chandos, from the gnomic utterances of Candelaria, his Mexican cook.
    http://www.mexconnect.com/amex/chandos/index.html

  • Rebecca

    Wow – I prepared this for my (French) husband and he ooohed and aaahed his way through the meal. It was a wonderfully simple recipe to follow – I stuffed all into my Le Creuset font cocotte and let the wonderful flavours meld together. Truly delicious. I only wish there was a similar slow-cook recipe for beef. Any suggestions as I like simple, flavourful dishes to serve to guests but I confess to not being too ‘habile’ in terms of timing and fussy, high maintenance recipes.

    Mes compliments

  • Gwen

    Well, I sort of tried this… Disaster ! I need to try again sticking as closely as I can to the recipe. Here is what I did differently:
    – the chicken was cut in pieces (I bought it like that)
    – I first browned the meat on high heat
    – then I added a bit of white wine
    – I also added potatoes
    – my cocotte is too big for the small oven we have, so I had to do it on the stove’s low setting

    The meat turned out not as moist as I expected (maybe from being cut in pieces ?). The skin was awful. But since Rebecca says she got great results, I have to try again with a little more discipline. The only thing I cannot stick to is the oven cooking. Any advice on that ?

  • http://echolage.wordpress.com Stacey

    Just had to say I read the recipe precisely because you named it after a person, they’re usually the most fun reads in a cookbook, and are good too.

  • Cassandra

    Clothilde, merci. I treasure your site. Muriel, merci aussi.

    California Fan,
    MY (retired) Californian husband made this dish tonight and demanded that I write to say how wonderful it was! He mentioned adding more garlic next time….

    I was surprised to find the chicken so well browned without having been sauteed first or broiled afterwards. Probably due to basting…

    He used the cocotte, but next time just to make a scientific experiment, I will suggest dusting off the Römertopf.

    Working Woman in Berlin

  • http://Giles Giles Pennington

    Hi Everyone,
    To solve the problem some had with the lemon you might try Patricia Wells’ approach (At Home in Provence, p.222). I’ve used this idea for years and it works beautifully.
    Use an organic lemon if possible. Pierce it about 20 times all around with a fork or toothpick. Place it in the cavity with some fresh rosemary.
    Patricia also likes to put pads of butter under the skin, something I also like to do.
    Using a Romertopf properly (soak top and bottom in cold water for 15 minutes and always place in a cold oven to start) is better than using a dutch oven I think. But either will work for this recipe.

  • kerry

    I’m going to have to give this a go, I have my Mums Romertopf passed on to me after she passed away, her name was Merriel but was often called Muriel (those that knew her well called her ‘Merry Hell’) : ))

    Enjoying browsing through your recipes, like the roasted cauliflower with magic sauce recipe, I’ve only ever roasted and squeezed fresh lemon juice over it so will have to give your sauce a try too

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Your mother’s Romertopf will make this extra special, I’m sure. Do report back if you try it!

  • diana

    where exactly do you pour the water? In with the cut up chicken? or in the pot after you remove the chicken?
    thanks
    diana

  • GG

    Hi Clotilde,

    I’ve always loved your blog and followed it from very early days. So you can imagine my delight to see a mention of this recipe in a book.

    I wonder if you knew about it? She doesn’t mention your blog as such but when she called it a great French food blog, I had a feeling it might be this one :).

    I personally think naming a recipe after a person is always a good idea because it really makes me curious to know why. Always good to know the stories behind the food, methinks!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      How fun! Thanks so much for letting me know, I had no idea and would probably never have found out. I’ve sent the excerpt to Muriel, I’m sure she’ll be pleased that her chicken has achieved celebrity status. :)

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