4.01.2017

Child's Play

This has to be the coolest cookbook I have ever been given. What could be better than a cookbook for children... in French?!

My friend Heather had this in her collection, and somehow knew I would love it for its perfect existence, and because I would actually cook from it.

"Children and poets like to disobey. If you are mean,
disobey and be good. If you chew your nails, disobey and
eat the good food painted by Michel Oliver.
Your old friend, Jean Cocteau, advises you. 1963"
The cover alone captured my heart, but when I discovered the introduction was written by Jean Cocteau, I was amazed. Seriously, how cool is that?

I promptly flipped through, making mental notes of which recipes I would make. I stopped looking when I got to the salt-roasted chicken.

I've been served - and made - salt-roasted fish before, and it was really quite good, but using this method for a chicken? Well, why not?

When I made salt-roasted whole fish, the salt crust was made with salt and egg whites. Not a difficult recipe by any means, by this salt-roasted chicken really is child's play.

Quite simply, you put the chicken in the pot on a bed of salt, put salt around its sides, then cover it with salt. Cover and bake, and - voilà! - a truly succulent bird!

No, the skin is not browned and beautiful, but we aren't supposed to be eating that anyway, right? The meat is incredibly moist and flavorful - perfect served as a roast, and a great method for getting perfectly-cooked meat for chicken salads, Crumble au Poulet, or sandwiches.

I served this with a chilled bottle of 2015 Rosé de Léoube, which I found on sale. It was a terrific pairing and I am grateful to Jérôme Pernot, of Château Léoube for telling me that roasted chicken was a good choice for his wine. You can read more about this pairing on the Provence WineZine.

As you can see, I served this with sautéed haricots verts and Madeira-braised carrots. If the chicken was lacking in color, the veggies made up for it.

La Cuisine est un Jeu d'Enfants by Michel Oliver is available to buy used online. It is a gem and wonderful for both children and adults.

~ David

Poulet au Sel - Salt-Roasted Chicken
My directions are a bit more detailed than the original source, and slightly adapted from experience...

a 3 1/2 pound chicken, I used an organic fryer
a bouquet of bay, rosemary, and thyme - optional
1 large shallot, quartered - optional
approximately 12 cups coarse salt, I used Morton's kosher salt

Wash and completely dry the chicken. I let mine sit on a rack in the refrigerator uncovered all day as the self-defrosting function of the fridge helps dry the chicken nicely.

If using the herb bouquet and shallot, stuff them into the cavity of the chicken. No need to truss or tie the bird.

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Place 2 cups of salt - I used a tea cup - in the bottom of an oven-proof casserole dish that has a cover. Place the chicken on the bed of salt and then pour 6 more cups of salt around the chicken, making sure there is salt between the chicken and the sides of the casserole. Finally, cover the chicken with 4 more cups of salt. Place the lid on the casserole, and bake for 50-60 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes. Carefully remove the chicken from the casserole. Much of the salt will fall away. Place the salt-crusted chicken on a large cutting board, and break the remaining salt crust with a wooden spoon. Remove and discard the crust. Using a dry pastry brush, carefully brush away any remaining salt, then remove the skin from the bird. Slice off the meat and place on a platter to serve.

Serves 4.

Braised carrots - per request!
This recipe is so easy that I can hardly call it a recipe.

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12-15 baby carrots, multicolored ones are nice
splash of Madeira
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet (that has a tight-fitting lid) and sauté the carrots for a few minutes, shaking the pan frequently to roll the carrots. Add a splash of Madeira and cover tightly, continuing to shake the pan frequently until the carrots are tender and well caramelized on all sides - about 15 minutes.

Serves 2



"Delicately break the salt crust to get the chicken out."

43 comments:

  1. What a fab book! The salt would surely make the flesh incredibly moist, and you know what? Chicken skin is meant to be good for you now. I read about it somewhere recently, so it must be true. Good or bad, I eat it anyway.
    Enjoy your weekend! We're in Medellín now about to do some sightseeing before the storms hit.

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    1. I always eat the chicken skin if it is crisp and well-colored! But not this skin... the flesh, however, was amazing.

      Have fun and don't get too wet!

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  2. What a great recipe, and lovely photos! I'm coveting your gardening tea towel.

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    1. That is one of my many gifted tea towels, Lois, many of them given to be seen on the blog, but this one dates back 15 years! I believe it came from the garden center at Longwood Gardens.

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  3. What a fun project! A few years back I was watching the French News to try to get my college French back. This sounds like much more fun!

    BTW, I roast chicken with (far less) salt rubbed into the skin all the time (see http://artofnaturalliving.com/2014/05/13/roast-chicken-lazy-way/). The skin comes out beautifully browned, though I fear my blood pressure goes up for a couple days after ...

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    1. I will have ot check out your post, Inger - and, yes, reading the French this way is a lot of fun!

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  4. This looks so yummy. It makes me feel like spring and instills some confidence that it will stop snowing here at some point. The cookbook as you wrote, looks charming. Such a pleasure to read!

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    1. May is on its way, Susan - the snow will stop eventually!

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    2. It came and went...quite cool again. I just noticed your recipe for carrots...was it there all along? THAT looks really good, too!

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    3. I added the carrots at the request of a reader. So simple that I never thought to include it originally!

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  5. So, you read French and Italian?!!!

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    1. Um, yes... and German, and a wee bit of Spanish. I am no linguist, but I generally learn because of food - restaurants, markets, eliciting recipes from landladies abroad, and even from little old nonnas sitting on their stoops... the usual!

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  6. Could you publish the recipe for the carrots?? Those look amazing!

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    1. I will add an addendum to the post, Kirsten - they were so easy that I hardly felt they were worth posting!

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  7. Love the story and love the dish. I really envy your carrots: what lovely colors! No yellow ones here in Italy, only purple and orange. Ciao ciao, ANna e Giovanna

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    1. Multiple colored carrots are all the rage here now, and happily the flavor is really as good as the color. Thanks, my friends!

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  8. Amazing and makes me feel hungry now! This is the kind of book I need! Wonder whether it is available somwhere online ! Will check it out.

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    1. Pauline - this is available on Amazon.com. From ridiculously high prices to a couple of offers at $5. It is a fun book!

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  9. It's so fun to get new cookbooks that "speak" to you. It look like a beautiful book, David. Basic brining gives meat and chicken such an intense pop of flavor and moisture. I can imagine that this salted chicken was totally falling off the bone! Beautiful pictures!! xoxo

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    1. Marcelle - I imagine that the salt of a brine is about the same as this salt crust, although the crust keeps all the moisture inside. It is a fun wait to roast a chicken and, while the recipe says you can reuse the salt, I am not completely comfortable with the safety issues there!

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  10. What a cool book, seems like a fairly sophisticated recipe for a child compared to the ones I had growing up, lol. Looks and sounds delicious!

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    1. Me, too, Cheri - I think it was mud pies for us! But, this was from the French, you know, so I guess my expectations were fro a pretty good level of sophistication.

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  11. Lovely book and to have Cocteau writing a little intro! ...
    excellent recipe: I remember what I was growing up in the seventies, food cooked "... al sale"/under salt was really popular (the most famous one being branzino al sale). I have never tried but I should, the problem is that good sea salt here in the UK is rather expensive and it would cost a small fortune/I guess I should try next time I am in Italy

    + on cookbooks for kids: can I suggest an excellent one, that is actually suitable for everyone and that it could become a minor classic: it is called Cooking with Coco, by Anna del Conte, the doyenne of Italian food here in the uk. Do u know her, David? She is as good as Hazan (and actually a food writer Hazan herself trusted very much, to the point that she asked Ms Del Conte to take over her famous cookery school in Bologna, when they (Marcella and Victor) left it...), but with a warmer tone. She is pushing 90 now and still producing excellent books. Her knowledge of Italian traditions and her taste are amazing. highly, highly recommended.
    Cooking with Coco was written with and for her little niece Coco, but is not kid cooking at all - it's full of simple recipes that also kids and teenagers can cook but they are really good for adults too. Check her out, she is really special. ciao, stefano / italianhomecooking.co.uk

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    1. Stefano - baranzino al sale is still very popular here in the States. There are two restaurants within 10 minutes walking distance from my house that offer it!

      Thanks for the recommendation - I have just purchased a new copy of Cooking with Coco, and am excited to try it! Until now, I have not known Anna del Conte and also look forward to finding more of her work. Ahhh, Marcella Hazan... another big loss for the culinary world this year. Thank you again for recommending this - I only wish it were in Italian so that I could improve my speaking/reading skills! Ciao ciao, David

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    2. ...I cannot remember if I have mentioned it.. I also have an Italian blog, should u want to perfect your skills :) www.bbq.wordpress.com stefano

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    3. Stefano - I just clicked on your link and there was nothing there. What is the name of your Italian blog so I can search for it?

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  12. We have made this recipe with fish several times and love it...need to move on to chicken. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Hope you and Andrew enjoy it, Carolyne! Definitely a fun experiment!

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  13. hello from quebec again

    yes we had another big soft snowfall on april fool's day. Or rather, we woke up to it - poisson d'avril! - because it had fallen during the night.

    re the chicken in salt, i'd very much appreciate a comment or 2 on the biochemical side, if that might be possible.

    i almost never cook with salt but add it at the table, hence my ignorance. But i would have thought that salt would draw juices & moisture out of the tissues, i've always been told salt reacts with the proteins to make meats tough & stringy? it seems from the remarks here though, that the exact opposite is the case.

    what really goes on at the molecular level when raw chicken meets its salt tomb? at 500 degrees fahrenheit?

    i'm also of the school that meat should be cooked at a low temperature - no more than 325F - to ensure it comes out moist, tender & flavourful. In fact if i cudgel the memory, i seem to remember the prof saying something about protein molecules changing at high temperatures & becoming downright harmful to health (OMG, do they oxidize?) therefore, she said, frequent barbecue is disadvised.

    in this recipe, we have a perfect chicken cooked at high temperatures inside a thick cocoon of salt, so obviously the biochemistry works differently than i had previously believed.

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    1. So sorry about your unfortunate poisson d'avril... I remember them oh, so well from my time living in Maine! And then when it would snow on Mother's Day - that was the last straw!

      I have never heard the rules you share here - perhaps this method is some sort of hybrid that ignores all the rules, as this chicken was extremely moist, and I don't think the temperature of 500°F ever reached the chicken! I think it was protected from its cocoon...

      I think it is time to discuss this recipe with my scientist friends at the university! Thanks for some good questions, Humble Pie (wish I knew your real name!).

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    2. i'm no university-based science wizard but perhaps i could hazard a guess ...

      the key step i think is the prolonged drying of the chicken before it goes under the salt. You have mentioned that you even dry your bird all day in the frig, without a cover.

      the drying will be enough to set up a seal in the chicken skin, i imagine. The heavy salt surround would increase the seal in the membrane. Although normally salt will dissolve proteins or at least produce a hydrophobic reaction in raw animal tissue, the dry-skin seal prevents this from happening.

      finally, it occurs to me that the high heat also speeds the sealing process. The cells composing the bird's skin shrink even faster, into a final seal which is dried out on the exterior (salt) side but mouthwateringly tender & juicy on the inside.

      i'm wondering whether roasting in salt might be an extremely ancient cooking technique, might be related to roasting food in clay or sand. In some equatorial countries, cooking by roasting many hours in the sun's heat, encased in sand or clay, might have produced a tender edible piece of meat that was not dried into leather. In desert countries with few trees, the technique would spare having to find or use rare precious pieces of wood for cooking fires.

      there's an atavistic sense to all this. It marries well with the idea of child's play. Altogether, a perfect launch to an april fool's day recipe i think.

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  14. What a great book, love the pictures and this recipe sounds delicious. You've made me hungry!

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    1. At least it's midday there, Caroline! It's pre-dawn here and I want some!

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  15. Once you get the salt roasting technique down you'd be surprised where you can use it. Potatoes are a natural, but tomatoes are my all-time favorite. That is until I try chicken! GREG

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    1. Tomatoes?? What a brilliant idea. I can only imagine the sweetness... Thanks, Greg!

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  16. Wow, this is the best I've seen so far in this category. I like the pictures and the recipes! Thanks for the review. I will get it for me.

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  17. All I can say is, French children must certainly eat better than ours do... but then, we knew that.

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    1. Yes, we did know that, Frank. Ah, to be a child in Paris...

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  18. I've had the fish cooked in sea salt so I can imagine how moist your chicken had to be.

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    1. It is really moist, Karen - I think you will like it!

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  19. It looks like a cute and fun cookbook with lovely illustrations to have around. A precious item indeed. Lol at the diving chook in its striped one-piece. The chook looks moist and moreish. Yum!

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    1. Thanks, Ngeun - and I just received the companion cookbook in the mail this weekend: La Pâtisserie est un Jeu d'Enfants! Can't wait to get started in that!

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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