In the French collective imagination the poule au pot evokes the good king, Henri IV and the prosperity of his reign. The myth of the beneficent king took root in the seventeenth century, and since then it’s been embellished and popularised.
And it’s also been improved, so now it is one of the best French dishes – because the chicken is cooked in the stock it stays juicy and moist. It’s a very convenient one-pot dish with the vegetables being cooked in the same pot, and the garlicky aïoli adds a bit of pep.
Below you’ll find:
- the recipe
- the history of the dish
- how it developed in a culinary way
- eating poule au pot at the Poule au Pot restaurant in London
Recipe for poule au pot
• 1 large, good quality chicken, jointed
• Cider and chicken stock to cover it
• 1 onion, peeled and halved
• Couple of bay leaves
• Sprigs of tarragon and thyme
• Selection of baby vegetables – carrots, new potatoes, turnips, leeks, courgettes
• Aïoli (cheats’ way – mix garlic and lemon juice to bought mayonnaise – find out how in this post) and then add both parsley and saffron
1. Place the chicken upside down in a big casserole and cover with the stock.
2. Add the herbs and the onion.
3. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook gently (if you have an Aga use the simmering oven) for an hour.
4. Put a big platter into warm (and the plates) and add the potatoes to the chicken.
5. Five minutes later add the turnips.
6. Five minutes after that add the carrots.
7. Five minutes after that add the baby leeks.
8. Lift the chicken out, put it on a carving board and cover with foil.
9. Lift out the vegetables and keep them warm.
10. Reduce the remaining liquid to about a third of its original volume.
11. Season it well, and add the vegetables back in.
12. Serve the carved chicken, the vegetables together with some of the broth (they should not be swimming in it), and the aïoli (in a pretty bowl) together on a big board.
The very first record of this dish appears in a biography of Henri IV written in 1661 by Hardouin de Perefixe, the Archbishop of Paris, who was also the private tutor of the future Sun King, Louis XIV. It’s a didactic work whose primary purpose was to educate the then prince into a better understanding of the caring nature of his regal duties.
De Perefixe sets the scene, describing Henri IV and the Duc de Savoie enjoying a game of racquets.
“There is no end to my admiration of the beauty and opulence of France*” comments the Duc ingenuously, and then, coming straight to the point he asks “how much is it worth in terms of revenue?” Henri doesn’t consider this unduly bald and, obviously already imbued with the evasion tactics of an astute politician, replies, “it’s worth what I want it to be worth”. The Duc thinks this is a bit vague and presses for clarification.
“It’s worth what I want, because I have the heart of my people, and that is what I want. And, God willing, I will ensure that every last ploughmen in my kingdom has the means to ensure that, once a week, he has a chicken in his pot. I will also strive to avoid sending men to fight in unnecessary wars” *declares the politician-monarch, wallowing in his rhetoric. This silences the Duc who clearly lacked the tenacity of a Jeremy Paxman-type interviewer.
De Perefixe’s aim, with all this idealism was to impress upon the future monarch the importance of caring and protecting his people, of not crushing them with burdensome taxes, and, thereby in return gaining their love and respect. However, the detail of the ploughman (like Marie-Antoinette’s misunderstood comment about cake) needs to be put into context. The ploughman wasn’t a poor labourer, but a man of means or at any rate a man of at least a team of oxen and more or less at the top of the peasant hierarchy. Henri IV’s aim was to restore wealth after forty years of draining religious wars by encouraging agriculture.
How did the dish itself evolve?
Enough history – what else is there to poule au pot aside from what it says on the tin? Originally the chicken was stuffed. The broth was served first as a starter. Then the chicken and vegetables were simply served – so the quality of the bird was (still is) paramount. A bit of zing is added these days by accompanying it with a saffron aïoli. The broth the chicken is cooked in ensures that it stays plump and juicy. If you like you can joint the chicken prior to cooking it. To find out how to make aïoli follow this link.
Poule au pot at a restaurant
Just to make sure I was getting this dish right I decided to try it out at the eponymous London restaurant. I knew I’d gone to the right place to carry out this research when one of my dinner companions exclaimed in amazement “I think the waiters really are genuinely French!” They served the dish with a remoulade sauce (which is effectively aïoli with mustard, shallots, capers, chives and tarragon) and a veal and pork terrine, moistened with a dash of port. It was heaven.
The Poule au Pot restaurant has a boisterous busy-ness, an informal warm welcoming atmosphere with bare wooden floorboards and red wine served in magnums (measured with an old-fashioned wooden ruler at the end of your meal). All four of us made different choices from the menu and we all pronounced our choice excellent. For more information on the Poule au Pot restaurant – which is highly recommended – go to their website. Or better still read through the highly entertaining review by Matthew Norman, in The Guardian.
* Note: this is a very loose translation by me…