Well, the whole house--2 adults, 3 kids, and probably the dog too--were hit hard with the flu or an exceptionally bad cold this weekend. The meals were geared to sustain only-- many bowls of soup, toast, and cup after cup of hot tea. On Saturday night, though, my husband managed to make the perfect chicken dish, chicken en cocotte. It is a relatively quick and easy whole chicken dish that he's made before, so he was able to stumble through the steps. The usual complaint is that it is rather bland. Not a problem in the sick house. He threw in a few cloves of garlic and some herbs that livened it up a bit and added some homeopathic health points. The chicken was amazingly delicious and just the right thing for all of us poor, sick people. It was the definition of comfort food, the convalescent chicken, and we lapped it up. Leftovers went into a homemade chicken soup the next day. So it truly helped sustain us through the weekend.
Chicken en cocotte, a classic French recipe, is a casserole-braised chicken. You brown the whole bird, trussed, in a little butter or oil and then transfer it to the oven (400 degrees), where it steams in its own juices. The result is a very tender chicken, done in about 35 minutes with very little attention. You can add more flavor and interest to the rich sauce that develops in the pan. You can also an add lemon juice, sauteed mushrooms, or lightly cooked asparagus to the final dish. For best results, use a heavy, round or oval, deep casserole made of enameled cast-iron. It must be able to take stove-top cooking for the browning step and it must also be oven-proof.