Why This Recipe Works: Poulet en cocotte (chicken in a pot) is a classic French specialty—at its best, it’s a whole chicken baked with root vegetables in a covered pot that delivers incredibly tender and juicy meat. Sounds simple, but it’s actually more challenging than throwing chicken in a pot with vegetables. One potential problem is too much moisture in the pot, which washes out the flavor; another pitfall is overcooking. We wanted chicken in a pot that delivered moist meat and satisfying flavor.
We removed the vegetables—the liquid they released made the pot too steamy—and cooked the chicken by itself (after browning it in a little oil to prevent it from sticking). We also tightly sealed the pot with foil before adding the lid. To keep the breast meat from drying out and becoming tough, we cooked the chicken very slowly. After developing the basic technique, we revisited the idea of vegetables, and found that a small amount of potently flavored aromatic vegetables could be added if they were lightly browned with the chicken to erase most of their moisture. Finally, defatting the liquid in the pot rewarded us with a richly flavored sauce.
The cooking times in the recipe are for a 41/2 to 5-pound bird. A 31/2 to 41/2-pound chicken will take about an hour to cook, and a 5 to 6-pound bird will take close to 2 hours. We developed this recipe to work with a 5 to 8-quart Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. If using a 5-quart pot, do not cook a chicken larger than 5 pounds. If using a kosher chicken, reduce the amount of table salt to 1/2 teaspoon. If you choose not to serve the skin with the chicken, simply remove it before carving. The amount of sauce will vary depending on the size of the chicken; season it with about 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice for every 1/4 cup.
1 (41/2 to 5-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded, wings tucked under back (see note)
1 teaspoon table salt (see note)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped medium
1 small celery rib, chopped medium
6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed
1 bay leaf
1 medium sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
1/2–1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon (see note)
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 250 degrees. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with the salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add the chicken, breast side down, and scatter the onion, celery, garlic cloves, bay leaf, and rosemary (if using) around the chicken. Cook until the breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken breast side up and continue to cook until the chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Off the heat, place a large sheet of foil over the pot and cover tightly with the lid. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 to 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thighs registers 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 50 minutes.
4. Remove the pot from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 20 minutes. Strain the chicken juices from the pot into a fat separator, pressing on the solids to extract the liquid; discard the solids (you should have about 3/4 cup juices). Let the liquid settle 5 minutes, then pour into a saucepan and cook over low heat until hot. Carve the chicken, adding any accumulated juices to the saucepan. Season the sauce with lemon juice to taste (see note). Serve the chicken, passing the sauce separately.