This beautiful French classic is rustic country farmhouse cooking at its best. While many of the recipes on this blog feature quick, 1 hour prep-and-cook dishes suitable for a weeknight when the temptation is just to grab fast food on the way home from work, the recipe in this post isn’t one of them. To the contrary, this is a step-by-step (and there are a lot of steps) method for preparing a traditional French dish that has graced many a farmhouse table in France – and in America, thanks to Julia Child – for decades. To that end, a few words are in order here:
First, don’t skim past this recipe. I know, I know, the temptation is to just ‘swipe left’ and move on. I do that when I’m researching recipes online too, but please, give this a try.
That being said, do wait until you have an afternoon off to try this – and you definitely SHOULD try this. This recipe is a great way to experiment with all kinds of techniques – how to break down a whole chicken, sautéing, braising, deglazing, reducing, flambéing, thickening a sauce.
I’ve categorized this recipe as “Advanced” because of the sheer number of steps, but actually none of them are that hard – read the instructions over a few times to get a picture of the game plan and you’ll be fine. However, there is quite a bit of prep and a lot of different pieces that have to come together in order for this dish to turn out right, so leave yourself a bit of time. Cooking is supposed to be a joy, not a burden – so make this when you’ve got some time and are in the right frame of mine to spend a few hours in the kitchen.
Second, while the origins of this dish come from the days when some old rooster had outlived his usefulness and therefore in order to be made edible he would need to be braised for hours on end, this recipe only requires about 90 minutes of (inactive) braising time in a 350°F oven. The reason for this is because the young chickens we buy in the grocery store these days are already so tender that if we were to braise them for 8 hours, they’d turn into mush.
Third, because this is rustic country cooking, there are no set rules on exactly what must (or must not) go in this dish. Julia Child’s recipe doesn’t include carrots; Paul Bocuse’s recipe does include carrots; I like carrots, so I included them. Julia Child calls for cooking the mushrooms, aromatics and onions separately, and then mixing them all into the dish at the end as a sort of garnish. This makes sense if you’re going to be braising your tough old rooster for 8 hours – the mushrooms and onions would never survive – but we’re not using an old rooster here so in this recipe I recommend just cooking all the stuff in the pot at the same time to achieve a better marrying of flavors.
And so on – the point here is that this post is as much of a method as it is a recipe. Learn the method and you can make all kinds of amazing stews, using whatever you have laying around – and that, at its heart, is what rustic country cooking is all about.
Lastly, the good news here is that this dish is cheap. If you are an efficient shopper, you can probably get everything you need here to feed 8 people (or four people twice, or yourself for a week) for about $15.00.
Let’s get cooking!
Time: 3.5 hours (90 minutes inactive)
Cost: About $2.00 per plate
For the Stew:
- 2 whole chickens, roughly 3-4lbs each, broken down into 8 parts
- This is not that hard to do – don’t get scared, go for it! Watch this this video a couple times and you’ll be fine.
- Approximately 3/4 of a bottle of drinkable red wine
- 2 buck chuck is fine – it just has to be something you’d drink.
- 2 -3 sprigs fresh thyme
- If you don’t have fresh thyme, make a little pouch using a coffee filter and some cooking twine. Tie bay leaves (ingredient #4) and 2 TBSP dried thyme up in the coffee filter – you want the flavor of these herbs in your sauce, but you don’t want them IN the sauce per se
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 12-16 oz Crimini or brown mushrooms, quartered
- 6 carrots, roughly julienned
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 0z bacon, sliced into lardons
- 2-3 TBSP olive oil
- 1 lb boiler or pearl onions
- 1 140z can low sodium chicken broth
- 1/3 cup brandy
- 4 TBSP butter, divided (one set of 3 TBSP plus 1 TBSP)
- 6 TBSP flour, divided (two sets of 3 TBSP each)
- 2 TSP paprika
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- 1 package egg noodles, prepared according to package directions.
- Crusty, rustic loaf of French bread
Part 1: Prep
- Break down chickens into 8 parts; marinate chicken parts in red wine along with two sprigs thyme and two bay leaves, refrigerated, for about 1 hour (probably about how much time it will take you to complete steps 2-5 here in the Prep section and steps 1-5 in the following Cook section).
- Prepare veggies: Mince shallot, quarter mushrooms, julienne carrots, mince garlic
- Slice bacon into lardons
- Pearl Onions: Remove root end and slice a small X into the cut end (the same end you just removed) – this will help keep them in one piece
- Locate and prep: Chicken stock; brandy; pearl onions, butter
- In a small bowl, mix 3 TBSP butter and 3 TBSP flour into a fine paste and set aside.
Part 2: Cook
- Preheat oven to 350°
- In a 2 quart sauce pan, bring 1 quart water to a rolling boil. Add the onions and boil for two minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and rinse in a colander under cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them by squeezing the intact end – the soft onions should slide right out of their skins. Set aside.
- Blanch your bacon lardons in the boiling water – you want to remove the smoky flavor from the bacon or it will overpower the gentle flavor of the chicken (I skip this step when making beef stew, which is heartier and less delicate). So, add your bacon lardons to the boiling water and while you are peeling the onions, allow bacon to boil for 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, pat dry, and transfer to a large heavy bottomed sauté pan.
- Remove chicken from wine and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve wine and herbs – do not discard. In a large tossing bowl, season chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, 3 TBSP flour; toss to coat and set aside.
- Sauté bacon in sauté pan; once fairly browned and most fat has rendered, remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large, oven-safe Dutch oven, leaving bacon fat in sauté pan. You should have about 1/8 inch deep fat in the pan; if not, add vegetable oil or clarified butter to get fat to 1/8 inch depth.
- In the same sauté pan, brown chicken on all sides (start skin-side down) in bacon fat, working in batches, about 5 minutes per side, and transferring to Dutch oven once browned.
- Fish thyme and bay leaves out of reserved wine and set aside.
- Deglaze the pan: Lower heat and slowly add reserved wine to pan. Add 14oz can chicken stock as well. Bring liquid to a boil and scrape up any remaining fond (the brown bits on the bottom of the pan).
- Stir in 1 TBSP tomato paste and stir to incorporate, 3 minutes
- Dump liquid from pan into Dutch oven with chicken and bacon. Wipe pan dry.
- Add 2-3 TBSP olive oil to the pan and heat over medium heat
- Add carrots and onions and sauté, stirring occasionally until browned around the edges, about 10 minutes, then lower the heat.
- Add shallots and sauté until translucent, 3-5 more minutes, being careful not to brown.
- Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, 2 more minutes, being careful not to brown.
- Transfer carrots, onions, shallots and garlic from pan to dutch oven with chicken, bacon and wine.
- Add mushrooms and 2 TBSP butter and sauté until browned and the mushrooms have absorbed most of the liquid in the pan (the pan should look fairly dry), 2 -3 minutes.
- Add 1/3 cup brandy and flambé
- Transfer mushrooms and any liquid in the pan to the Dutch oven with chicken, bacon and wine.
- Give everything a good shake to settle.
- Add reserved thyme and bay leaves.
- Mostly cover (IMPORTANT: Leave lid slightly askew with about a 1/4-1/8 inch gap on one side to allow steam to escape, which will prevent liquid from boiling over in oven), and cook in 350°F oven for 90 minutes.
- Intermission: While the chicken braises, treat yourself to a glass of wine (possibly that last 1/4 bottle?) or a beer, and possibly some nuts or a nice hunk of brie – if you made it this far, you’ve earned it!
- After 90 minutes, carefully remove from oven. Remove lid and fish out thyme and bay leaves; discard.
- Using the lid as a strainer (so, slightly askew with about a ¼ inch gap), pour liquid in pan through a wire mesh into a saucepan. Return any little pieces caught in the strainer to the Dutch oven. Leave covered at room temperature.
- Bring braising liquid in the saucepan to a boil; reduce to a simmer, skim off any fat that accumulates at the top (alternatively, use a fat separator in step #24).
- Stir in butter/flour mixture (from step 6 in the prep section, remember that?) to thicken, 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and make sure raw flour taste is gone.
- Add thickened sauce back to Dutch oven. Allow to sit at a bare simmer while preparing noodles and bread
Serve stew over egg noodles with a generous ladle full of sauce and bread on the side. Serve with a robust red wine.