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A Potted Poulet Saves the Day

Just a little something we whipped up in Paris: white asparagus with a Hollandaise-like sauce, steamed baby potatoes and a salad of tiny Romaine with anchovies, plus my pinot noir'd poulet au pot, with onions and garlic. (photos by Rachel Alabiso)

It was a natural impulse: When my food-obsessed friend Rachel and I were planning our trip to Paris, we decided to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel. It was going to be cheaper, but we also would be able to cook from the markets instead of going out to eat -- at least part of the time.

Yeah, right. We’ve been here since Saturday, in a sixth-floor apartment on the Ile-Saint-Louis, right in the middle of it all. Our list of must-try restaurants has been so ever-growing and -changing (Rachel even sketched out a grid calendar so we could keep up) that the thought of staying in and cooking never managed to win us over on any given day.

That is, until Tuesday, when the night looked like it would be rain-free enough to serve a meal on the little roof deck. Rachel’s colleague, Elisabet, was in town and looking forward to a low-key night, so here was our chance.

We had done a kitchen inventory: olive oil, salt and pepper, a few basic pots and pans (including one biggish sauté pan that could go in the oven); a ginormous cook’s knife (razor-sharp) plus a honing steel, a wine opener, and, only in Paris, a cheese knife; four working (gas!) burners. What more did we need?

The selection of chickens at Le Grande Epicerie Paris.

Well, food. It was too late in the day to hit an outdoor market, so we made our way to Le Grande Epicerie Paris, the food store attached to Bon Marche, where we spent 34 euros on a 2-kilo-plus chicken.

You read that right: $48 for about 4 1/2 pounds. But this isn’t just any chicken. This was one of the famous Bresse chickens, with blue feet and head attached. The Guardian called it the world's most pampered chicken, so I was determined to roast it the way I usually do, with garlic and lemon and parsley stuffed in the cavity and under the skin. After our bird was chosen, the chicken man asked us if we wanted its innards (non, merci) and then quickly dispatched its head and feet, trussed it beautifully with a few quick movements of hand, knife and string, then sealed it in a bag.

Without an oven, the chicken (trussed beautifully by the man at the store) was crammed into a pot on the stovetop, with garlic, onions and most of a bottle of pinot noir.

We also bought white asparagus, little potatoes, the teensiest heads of Romaine I’ve ever seen, butter with fleur de sel, white anchovies and wines: a cheap, lighter pinot noir and a bigger, more expensive Bordeaux. There was a slight meltdown at the register when were sent out of line to weigh things we didn’t realize needed to be pre-weighed, but other than that, mission accomplished.

That is, until we made our way back to our little island apartment, crammed into the two-person elevator with our bags, fumbled with keys to get from the elevator directly into the apartment, then dropped everything the galley kitchen. That's when we realized the one thing we hadn’t checked off was...oven. There wasn’t one. So much for roasting.

Elisabet was due in a half-hour, but no worries. I crammed the chicken into the biggest pot (breaking its backbone to get it in there), chopped some garlic and onion for the pot, and glugged in about two-thirds of the bottle of pinot. Voila! Poulet au pot. It was too late to truly follow David Hagedorn's recent recipe for such, so I winged it, so to speak.

I steamed beautiful baby potatoes in a little saucepan, and did the same with thick white asparagus, which are in season here now, in a sauté pan. We also had farm-fresh eggs from a previous market visit, so I figured: Why not make a quick mayo for the asparagus? Twenty minutes of whisking with a fork proved I needed a real whisk, but also that a thin mayo makes a pretty decent approximation of Hollandaise, with olive oil standing in for clarified butter.

We passed platters up the scariest little staircase and out to the roof deck, and dug in. The chicken was tender and full of flavor -- and not just from the wine, either. Was it worth $48? Just this once, sure. But I hear that some of the cheaper -- much cheaper -- chickens are better suited to roasting, actually, so now I know what I'll do next time. That is, if I have an oven.
-- Joe Yonan

By Joe Yonan  |  June 12, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: Joe Yonan, Paris, chicken  
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Next: Groundwork: The Humble, Magnificent Beet


Nice anecdote. That's the Paris I know: Trying to cook in a tiny kitchen, but with the benefit of the beautiful Parisian culinary bounty as your larder.

Posted by: davemarks | June 15, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I'm a complete convert to Chicken in a Pot. I like it better than roasted in it's own right, but I tried it because my roasted fowls are never quite *right* (I cook the rest of Thanksgiving but my friend roasts the bird). Sounds like you had a terrific meal with good company. Lovely.

Posted by: esleigh | June 16, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

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