Henri the IV of France is not a saint, nor does he have a feast day. But, legend has it, he is responsible for one of my favourite dishes. The glorious poule au pot. Henri wanted every member of his kingdom to have a chicken in his/her pot on a Sunday.
Henri went some way to achieving this with many of his policies, particularly those promoting agriculture, and he was an extremely popular king.
Where he was contentious, however, was in matters of religion. He started off as a Calvinist, a Hugeneot… indeed he fought wars to maintain a protestant regime in France. Eventually he saw the light and converted to Catholicism, realising that it was the only way to end civil war and to safely be King of France. He is said to have remarked ‘Paris vaut bien une messe’ (Paris is worth a mass). By all acounts he became a very devout Catholic.
Poor old Henri was assassinated, his head cut off, by a particularly zealous Catholic called Francois Ravaillac. Dear Francois was a bit mad and interpreted some of Henri’s actions as the start of a war against the Pope, so sprung into action. After Henri’s death his body was buried in the Basilica of St Denis. During the revolution his tomb was trashed, and his head went missing. It was tracked down a few years ago, having passed through private collections for years. All sorts of science matched Henri’s body with the head that was found, and they were joyfully reunited after over 200 years!
So I’m rather a fan of Henri IV… Catholic (up to a point) and responsible for Poule au pot. He died on the 14th May, so here is a nice springtime poule au pot for Henri IV.
1 happy medium sized free-range chicken
A few rashers of smoked streaky bacon/lardons
4 nice young carrots
4 sticks of celery
10 new potatoes – halved, or old potatoes (skin off) in wedges
A leek – cut into rings
A shallot, chopped up
Garlic – 3 cloves
A few sprigs of parsley
A note on ingredients and method:
I’m afraid that the ingredients for this recipe are not desperately traditional, and nor is the method, because I like to allow the breast to brown and then to serve the chicken with a buerre blanc. Traditionally one would stuff the chicken, put it into a simmering broth, add the vegetables a little later and serve everything together once the vegetables are cooked. If you wanted to be really keen you’d wrap the chicken in muslin first.
But I do it differently. Sorry. To be honest, it’s so delicious this way that I think Henri IV would have approved. Because this is a dish I do rather a lot, and usually with whatever needs using up, it often turns out rather differently, and the photos with this post are phone snaps from three different poules.
Start by sweating the shallots, garlic, and lardons. Then pop in the chicken and brown the dear thing on all sides. Then it’s really just a case of adding the ingredients around the side. Start with the leeks, then the carrots and celery. Sprinkle in the thyme and add the bayleaf and parsley and then pop the potatoes around the top. Pour hot water, and some good stock into the pot, until everything’s just about covered, and bring up to the boil. Then pop in the oven at 170C for about an hour and a half. After this time, take the lid off and turn the oven up to 200, there should still be a decent amount of liquid around the chicken. It may need topping up a little, but the top part of the breast and legs should be exposed now. Rub butter on the exposed bits of skin and pop the whole thing back, lid off, for another 20 minutes to half an hour. When the breast is browned serve portions of chicken with vegetables in wide bowls, together with a beurre blanc. Save the cooking liquor as decent vegetable/chicken stock. Indeed you can boil up the chicken carcass with it and it’ll make lovely rich stock for the freezer (and your next poule au pot).
Finely chopped shallots
White wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Good butter – a lightly salted French or Italian butter is great
Put shallots in a pan, and cover with two thirds white wine, to a third white wine vinegar (probably about ½ pt in total) and put on the hob until it’s well-reduced. Then take off the hob, and whisk in cubes of cold butter a couple at at a time, whisking constantly (off the heat, or on a very low heat). Make sure you whisk in the each couple of cubes before adding more. Keep adding butter and whisking until the sauce thickens. It’ll probably take about 6oz butter.