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By the Book: Stéphane Reynaud’s Poulet Tout Simplement

March 13th 12:03pm, 2012

Pulling off a good roast makes me feel like Picasso in the kitchen. When I pull that pan of perfection from the oven, I feel like maybe I could be the next Martha – and wonder if, perhaps, I’m part French.

So I was delighted to crack open Stéphane Reynaud’s Rôtis: Roasts for Every Day of the Week. The charming cookbook is very European, from the illustrations and French recipe names right down to the feel of the paper. I couldn’t wait to start roasting something.

The recipe that first caught my eye was the Filet de Boeuf Rôti en Croûte de Champignons or, rather, the roast fillet of beef with mushrooms “en croûte.” I immediately had fantasies of setting this gorgeous hunk of beef tenderloin lovingly enveloped in a puff pastry before my dinner guests. Their mouths would salivate and they would give each other that knowing look: They had sorely underestimated my prowess in the kitchen.

But who was I kidding? I’ve made three roasts in my life. I was taught how to roast by a darling, French friend while we were expatriating in Jakarta. When I told her I’d never roasted anything, she set down her cigarette (her fifth one that morning), raised an eyebrow and asked incredulously, “How can you be as old as you are and not know how to make a roast? That’s ridiculous.”

So, at 28, I was shamed into making my first roasted chicken. And I saw what the fuss was about: There was no fuss. It was incredibly easy to execute. Since it has been four years since I first roasted a chicken, I decided to make Reynaud’s Poulet Tout Simplement – chicken, plain and simple, as a refresher course of sorts.

As I was gathering my ingredients, I couldn’t help but think that six onions were excessive and that my roasting pan would be way too small. Perhaps Reynaud was working with much smaller onions, or a much larger pan. So I bought three. I only ended up using two, which was plenty both for flavor and serving size.

Now, I must admit I made a crucial mistake: I had my friend assisting me. Mel, who had never made a roast, was met with the same disdain that I’d been met with from my French friend. “You’ve never made a roast? You need to learn.” While buying ingredients, she mistook six cloves of garlic for six heads, and she would later lead me to believe that the total cooking time was an hour when it was an hour and a half. Rookie.

But before we got to the actual cooking of the chicken, there was the matter of trussing the bird. Armed with my length of kitchen string, I referred to the How to Tie a Chicken page of the book. It began easily enough with instructions to remove the innards, a step which made my understudy wretch. Next, it instructed to “tie the string around the neck skin and the wings, then tuck these underneath the chicken.” I’d only ever tied the feet so I was perplexed by this step. Not seeing any neck skin, I did pause for a minute and pondered the flappy bit at the base of the chicken. Did I have this bird upside-down? “That’s the butt,” my assistant confirmed.

Spending the next few minutes trying to tie the string to non-existent neck skin and tuck two very uncooperative wings “under” the bird was almost enough to cause me to throw a temper tantrum right there in my own kitchen. Bested by the Frenchman’s trussing instructions, I had to consult Martha’s book, Cooking School. While the instructions were just as befuddling, the pictures were clearer and we managed to tie that bird up tight.

My next misstep, which I entirely blame Mel for, was adding everything to the pot at once. Apparently I added the potatoes an hour too early. But that’s the beauty of a roast: You can sometimes make big mistakes and not ruin dinner.

I checked my roast from time to time and, at the one-hour mark (which I thought was the finishing line), it was nowhere near done. To be fair, the photo in the book looks less browned than others I’ve seen, but this definitely needed more time. Forty-five annoyed minutes later and the bird was looking better. In my opinion, everything in the pot looked under-cooked. But out of fear of over-cooking, I pulled the pot to test doneness.

Surprisingly, though only very lightly browned, the skin was beautifully and delicately crisp. A deep cut through the thickest part of the breast revealed milky white, juicy meat with no pink anywhere in sight. The vegetables, which also looked underdone by my estimation, were pleasing to the palate: soft but still structured. The garlic was like buttery manna from heaven. By golly, we’d done it!

It wasn’t the prettiest bird I’d ever seen. I couldn’t stop suspecting that it needed a few more minutes to give it the oily San Tropez tan it so often has in the magazines. And even though my assistant consistently attempted to foil my efforts, the resulting roast was delightful. Chicken, plain and simple indeed.

Chicken, Plain and Simple

1 large free-range chicken
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 onions, unpeeled (Note: I only used 2 and, because they were so large, ended up peeling and cutting them into small chunks.)
6 potatoes, skin on and cut into wedges.

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Wipe the chicken and pat dry with kitchen paper.
• To tie the chicken, fold the wings back and tuck them underneath the chicken, then tie the legs together with string.
• Brush the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Place the chicken in a flameproof roasting tin, then arrange the garlic cloves and onions around it. Roast the chicken in the oven for 1 hour.
• Remove the roast and arrange the potato wedges around the chicken. Baste the chicken with some of its cooking juices, then return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
• Serve the chicken covered with its cooking juices, with the garlic, onion and potatoes.

Boursin Stuffing

This is a complicated process consisting of carefully unwrapping a Boursin cheese and stuffing it into the chicken. At serving time, mix the Boursin that has melted during cooking with the cooking juices.

The above tongue-in-cheek instructions for the stuffing are the author’s, not mine. Ah, le sarcasme!

Is there a dish that you were scared to try at home, but once you did, you realized it wasn’t so hard after all? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Rôtis: Roasts For Every Day of the Week.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Jennifer S., whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won her a copy of Uchi The Cookbook. Jennifer, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew!

By Kylah Brown

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4 Responses to “By the Book: Stéphane Reynaud’s Poulet Tout Simplement

  1. Cherie Says:
    March 14th, 2012 at 3:08 am

    Lamb Stew always sounded hard to me, but once I got all the necessary ingredients, it was pretty easy!

  2. Annie Cavedine Says:
    March 14th, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I absolutely love ragu alla bolognese! After years of looking through recipes, however, I was totally skeptical and terrified to actually try one… frightened by the mix of various meats, red wine and milk. Last winter I finally caved and have been hooked ever since! A good ragu does require you to be home for an extended period of time to let the sauce simmer for hours, but it is actually not that difficult or very time consuming!

  3. Katie Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Gyro meat. I had never worked with lamb and was totally intimidated by cooking in a water bath. But it was such a success that it is one of the most requested meals I make!

  4. Sauce Magazine Blog » Blog Archive » By the Book: Marc Vetri and David Joachim’s Bucatini Allla Matricana Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    [...] now, we’d like to congratulate Annie Cavedine, whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won her a copy of Rôtis: Roasts For Every Day of the Week. Annie, keep an [...]

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