Contemplating Dorie Greenspan’s very French Chicken in a Pot among other chicken dishes for dinner, I had a flashback of my trusty clay kadai, which in turn openened a floodgate of memories.
I still remember, it was her feet that caught my eye. Coated with talc-like dust, they seemed part of the dark earth with solid silver rings curling around her toes and thick, silver hoops dancing around her ankles. Like some ebony tree wreathed in bottle-green foliage, she wore her green saree tribal-style, blouseless with one bare shoulder shining like onyx in the sun. Her beauty was ancient (imprinted in my memory, even after so many years); as if it existed like an old palace, weather-worn and maybe a little faded but timeless. And she was the queen of clay pots. Smooth, rich red-earth-coloured, round-bottomed creations arranged in neat pyramids. I was enchanted by her and her traditional Indian kadais, chattis (cooking utensils) she was selling for a pittance on the side of a dusty highway. Needless to say, I bought a kadai (a deep, circular, cooking vessel with curved handles on its sides) but in my heart, didn’t expect to use it much, let alone roast a whole chicken in it.
I was wrong. In its 9-year life with me, it has cooked up many rustic fish curries and my family’s favourite chicken dishes for dinner, but was consigned to the back of my kitchen cupboard off late, a little forgotten, like its seller. Cooking Dorie’s French, country-style whole chicken dish in a rustic Indian pot – the idea sounded delicious. Even the food gods willed this to happen because my chicken was just the right fit for my kadai. I couldn’t wait to try!
I adapted Dories’s recipe a little bit but not enough to change the character of the dish. She used a Dutch oven, I didn’t. Also, I went for fresh lemons since I did not have any preserved ones and I cut down the heads of garlic from four to two. The beauty of cooking the whole chicken lay in the fact that the pot sealed with dough cooks for an hour in the oven when the magic happens. If you do not fancy cooking an entire bird, make it as you would other chicken thigh recipes using whole thighs with skin on.
Locked in, the juicy, whole chicken, vegetables, herbs and seasonings get to know each other intimately enough to absorb each others flavours and produce a deliciously, mellow but warmly comforting dish. And it helps that it looks spectacular on the table, and when you break the seal and release the scented steam, it’s like eating with your nose. The chicken is tender to the fork, and can be cut up and served along with the vegetables. The juices (the best part) can be poured over the chicken or (if you’re sharing it with your family) the pot can be placed in the centre of the table and everyone can dip in slices of crusty baguette to mop up all that flavour. It has become one of my favourite weekend chicken dishes for dinner.
My family loved the dish and for me it was an ode to a beautiful memory, perhaps insignificant in the larger scheme of things but nevertheless precious and worth savouring even today.
Clay Pot Chicken
- 1 medium-sized chicken with skin on 3-4 wedges of lemon
- 8 baby potatoes peeled
- 3 large carrots peeled and quartered
- 2 heads of garlic cloves separated but not peeled
- 3 celery stalks peeled and quartered
- 10 shallots or small white onions peeled
- 3 thyme sprigs
- 3 parsley sprigs
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup water
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup hot water
- Preheat your oven to 230 degrees C.
- Massage the chicken well with salt and pepper all over on its skin as well as inside its cavity. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and brown the chicken on all sides. Set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same skillet and quickly brown the vegetables and garlic with salt and pepper. Pour into a Dutch oven or any other suitable pot and mix in the herbs and the lemon wedges. You could also put a lemon wedge and some herbs inside the chicken.
- Place the chicken in the pot so that it's well tucked in and surrounded with the vegetables. Combine the broth, wine and the rest of the olive oil and pour over the chicken and the vegetables.
- Make a pliable dough with the flour and water. Cover the pot with its lid and seal the sides tightly with the dough. Alternatively use foil in place of a lid and seal with the dough.
- Put the pot in the oven and cook for 55 minutes to an hour. Make sure to break the dough seal gently if using a clay or ceramic pot. Serve with crusty bread.