24 May 2012

Poulet à la crème

Have you ever roasted a whole chicken in a pot on top of the stove? There are French recipes that call for cooking a chicken that way. It's less messy but just as effective as cooking a whole bird in the oven. I'm not talking about boiling, but about roasting or braising, or a combination of those two methods.

One recipe is for a chicken first browned in butter and/or oil in a thick-bottomed pot and then simmered in milk an inch or two deep, with frequent basting. The milk tenderizes the chicken and makes a rich sauce. Another is a whole chicken first browned in butter and then cooked with a cup or so of cream in the bottom of the pot, again with frequent basting. The cooking time is about 90 minutes.

Poulet à la crème, un poulet cuit à la casserole

That's the recipe I based my Poulet à la crème on yesterday. It comes from Ginette Mathiot's book Je Sais Cuisiner, a French classic first published in the 1930s under the title La Cuisine pour Tous. An older French woman gave me a copy as a birthday present back in the late 1970s. She knew I liked to cook, and I learned a lot about cooking from her and from the book. My copy is (c)1970.

Brown a chicken in butter and/or oil in a pot on top of the stove,
and then put on a lid and let it cook slowly until it's done.

It's interesting to think that most people didn't have ovens in their kitchens until relatively recent times — since the 1920s and '30s, at the earliest — and cooking methods that required just a pot on the top of the stove were popular. Here's the recipe, which actually is a combination of two recipes in Mathiot's book. One is a recipe for roasting a chicken in a pot, and the other tells how to add the cream sauce, mushrooms, and shallots to make Poulet à la crème.

Ginette Mathiot's two recipes — Poulet à la crème is a variant
based on Poulet à la casserole.

Here's my version of the recipe, in English:

Chicken roasted in a pot with cream sauce,
mushrooms, and shallots
Melt two tablespoons of butter in a thick-bottomed pot, along with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. In the butter, brown a whole chicken, trussed, starting the chicken on its back and turning it so that both sides and the breast are lightly golden brown.

Cover the pot and let the chicken "roast" over low heat for 30 minutes per pound (about 90 minutes in all). Optionally, pour in half a cup of water or white wine and add some bay leaves or other herbs for flavor.

After an hour of cooking, add two chopped shallots and six or eight large mushrooms, sliced, to the pot. When the shallots and mushrooms have cooked slightly in the chicken juices, pour in 1½ cups of cream. (Optionally, thicken the cream with a white roux made with flour and butter.)

When the chicken is cooked, take it out of the pot, cut it into serving pieces, and spoon the sauce over all. Or serve the chicken whole and carve it at the tables. Serve the extra sauce separately.

This Poulet à la crème is more of a method than it is a precise recipe. It's easy to imagine many variants. Garlic, onions, tarragon, sage, thyme, rosemary, or other aromatics and herbs could enhance the flavor of the chicken and the sauce in nice ways. Some lemon juice would brighten it up. You could even substitute a light tomato sauce for the cream, making a kind of Chicken Cacciatore.


  1. That is a very good looking dish. I have to try it.

  2. Another recipe for the French file! Thank you for sharing. I have her book in English, the first edition was only published 2 years ago...I am going to check the recipes.

  3. Louise, I haven't seen the English-language edition yet. Didn't Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini do the translation?

  4. Ken, that looks delicious, and easy (as long as you have a good pot that is big enough). This reminds me of a Julia Child recipe in Mastering the Art.... I don't know the recipe well enough to know if she cooks the bird whole, and in a pot, but the cream and mushrooms with the chicken is the thing. When I was doing my French Recipes unit with French 4 a few years ago, two or three of my students looked through the book and made the recipe one night (apparently, it was quite a success!). I'll have to look and see how her recipe is similar to your method. Man oh man, there is just nothing as delicious as roasted chicken with cream, I think!

    Welcome back to the world of French cooking! I'll bet you kind of missed cooking while you were gone!

  5. This looks delicious - will have to try it one of these days :-)

  6. Julia's Chicken Supreme recipes are very good. I like the idea of cooking a whole chicken which is more economical and good for lots of leftovers.

  7. Well, it is pouring rain today and putting a chicken in a pot with cream and mushrooms sounds perfect for my evening meal! Thanks, Ken, for providing my menu for tonight's meal. Nothing like a french recipe of chicken in a pot to make my home smell frenchy...

    Mary in Oregon

  8. Looks delicious! I am someone who has cooked about a million chickens and I'm always looking for new ways to jazz up the old bird. (the chicken, not me.). One of these days i'm going to splurge on a nice Le Creuset, I think the only reason I haven't bought one yet is because I can't decide which color to pick...that and the price of them!

  9. Hi Lynn, nice to hear from you. Try the chicken, Le Creuset or no Le Creuset. And I agree -- you don't need any jazzing up at all.

    Judy, I took at look at JC's two books and I'm not sure which recipe you are referring to. Let me know.

    Evelyn, Chicken Supreme, maybe that's it. But I prefer leg and thigh meat to the white meat on a chicken, so the whole bird is the way to go.

    Mary, hope you enjoy it. We'll be having the leftovers tomorrow or Saturday. May the rains end on your side as they have here.


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