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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Roast Chicken, Christian Delouvrier's way

Pouletrotidelouvrier

Recipes come to us in odd little ways.  I remember learning how to make truffle omelettes from a gigling, nearly toothless old lady in Southwest France.  Of course I took her seriously, she happened to be Marthe Delon, the famous truffle huntress who has been training a truffle-hunting pig a year for over 50 years.  She calls them all Kiki - couldn't be bothered to remember a new name each year, she said. 

This roast chicken recipe came to me from not so exotic a location but no less interesting a source.  The scene was the dining room at Manresa, the participants were Laurent Manrique, our dear friend and the famous chef of what I like to call the-dearly-departed-Aqua, his much-fairer-and-better-half Michelle, and yours truly.  We had just been served a deceptively simple truffle omelette.  Yes they certainly do omelettes at Manresa, hardly a greasy-countertop-diner-variety made from Nearly Eggless GooTM, but one comprised of Porcini puree, freshest farm eggs, and housemade salted butter, oh, yes, and a generous showering of white truffle at the table.  It's the kind of dish that made us stopped in our tracks.  "Elle m'a mise sur le cul", Laurent said of the dish, a French expression meaning something to the tune of being so gouud it knock' ya on yur ass, hon.  That got us talking about deceptively simple dishes that shocked us with their greatness.  That's when Laurent brought up this roast chicken recipe he learned from Christian Delouvrier. 

You know who Christian Delouvrier is, don't you?  He is something of a legend, an old-school chefs' chef kind of character.  As far as I'm concerned -and I'd say many will agree- the period when Delouvrier was the chef at the restaurant Alain Ducasse in NYC was the apex of that restaurant - perhaps even any of Ducasse's restaurants post Ducasse himself.  That food certainly knocked me on my ass, I totally admit to you.

So when Laurent started telling me about this recipe I sat up straight to pay attention - well, as straight as I could possibly be after many glasses of Chablis -Dauvissat- and Bordeaux -ahem, '66 Madeliene, ahem.  This is what he said. (Reading the next paragraph in his cute French accent will help, enormously.)

You take a chicken and you put in a lot of salt, a lot, on the inside, *inside*, and put a lot of thyme and a lot of garlic.  Then you rub it with butter all over, *a lot* of butter.  Unsalted butter, no salt on the outside at all.  Then you bake it at 350F, yes, that low, for 40 minutes.  Then you take it out and let it rest 15 minutes.  During that time, you make a reduction of same amount of water and soy sauce, then you do like a beurre fondu (of course butter ee eez French!).  Reduce it to the consistency of a good jus.  Then when the chicken is done resting you brush it all over with mix.  Then you put back the chicken, 15 minutes more at 400F.  Then remove the chicken and let it rest for 10 minutes.  Then you cut up the chicken to serve. 

It sounded so simple, and yet unlike any roast chicken recipe I've ever tried.  A glace made of soy sauce, water, and butter sounded delightful and odd in about equal measures.  I was duly intrigued, and promised myself to try it one day soon.  The day turned out to be yesterday.  At our house, Tuesday nights are our Sunday nights-since David's days off are Mondays at Tuesdays.  We often have a nice dinner with friends, many of whom are in the restaurant business and so have similar schedule.  We often have a simple roast chicken (using the recipe I wrote about in my book), so I thought I'd try this new recipe and see what everyone thought about it.

I wasn't so sure if I actually remembered everything, so I called Laurent and quizzed him a bit more.  That revealed a few more crucial details about the recipe.  The resting periods are very important as the chicken cooks at such a low temperature for a long time.  He also recommended using *a lot* of salt, far more than the usual amount.  The inside of the chicken would be so salty as to render the carcass unusable - can't keep it for stock or anything.  Laurent also mentioned that the thighs might be slightly undercooked, but if that happened I shouldn't panic, as putting them back in the oven for 5-10 minutes more should do the trick.  So, armed with these careful instructions, I set to work.

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I got one gorgeous chicken, about 4.5lbs of plump, air-processed chicken.  Organic, of course.  Did you really need to ask?  My chicken came trussed already, so I didn't need to do it, but you might.  I put an overly generous amount of salt inside the cavity.  A lot.  I must have used two big handfuls of salt and many, many turns of the peppermill.  I stuffed it with two heads of garlic cut in half crosswise, and a big handful of thyme.  (When you tell a Thai girl to use a lot of garlic you'd better not be kidding!)

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Then I rubbed that baby all over with soft butter.  When a Frenchman tells you to use a lot, *a lot*, of butter you take him seriously.  I think I used about 4oz of butter, almost a full stick.  (Frankly that's probably a bit over board. I'll use a little less next time.)

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I preheated the oven to 350F, and put the chicken in.  Just about half way through the 40 minute period, I started working on the glace.  I mixed 1/3 cup each of water and soy sauce, and about 5 Tablespoon or 75g of butter in a small saucepan and set it on a medium fire.  I let it simmer until reduced to the consistency of a good jus, which looked about like this.

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After 40 minutes (basting once or twice with the melted butter at the bottom of the pan) I took the chicken out, and turned the oven back up to 400F.  This is what my chicken looked like before I covered it (loosely) with foil and let it rest, undisturbed, for 15 minutes.

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The I brushed it all over with the glace.  Now this chicken is ready to get back into the oven.

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The chicken hung out in the hot oven for 15 more minutes.  I turned the pan once during that time to make sure the chicken was cooked evenly.  This time I didn't baste it at all.  At the end of the 15 minutes mark, out came the chicken from the oven. 

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It rested for the full 10 minutes, then we cut it up for serving.  Sure enough, the thighs were just this side of done, so they went back to the oven for five more minutes, that's all.  As you can see from the picture, the chicken was plump and juicy still.  The skin wasn't crisp, but certainly made up for that shortcoming with the gooey, salty, deliciously sweet flavor from the glace.  It was so good we kept taking bites before the plate went out to the table.

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Was it worth it, this recipe?  You bet.  My respect for Christian Delouvrier (and Laurent too for that matter) went up another notch.  A little caveat about this though, I think this recipe works best in a convection oven, as the thighs would cook better and more evenly.  Also, if for you a roast chicken is all about the crisp skin, this might not be for you.  But if you're in it for the juicy, flavorful meat, go for it.  You won't be disappointed by this unique recipe.  

So, how do you roast your chicken?  Any special secrets you wouldn't mind sharing?

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