The Cookbook Club is one of those simple but brilliant ideas, the kind where you wonder why no one thought of it before now. The brainchild of Elaine Walsh, The Cookbook Club is a monthly event that features an Irish chef talking about his or her latest cookbook over a three‐course dinner at Ely CHQ, where all the food is made from the cookbook being featured that night. It’s the best book signing you’ll ever go to.
The dinners started in September, but the first one I went to was last month, when the legendary Darina Allen of the Ballymaloe Cookery School was the featured author talking about her latest book, the award‐winning Forgotten Skills of Cooking. What’s more, Elaine arranged a special pre‐dinner meeting with Darina just for a few food bloggers. Never mind that it was during the same manic week as Inishfood — how could I pass up such a chance?
But on the day of the dinner, when faced with the thought of meeting the grande dame of Irish cooking with her trademark red glasses, I got nervous. What on earth would I say to someone so highly regarded? What clever question could I possibly ask? I needn’t have worried. As soon as we all sat down with a glass of wine, Darina hit the ground running, talking about everything from the early days at Ballymaloe, how she started the farmers’ market movement in Ireland, learning how to use her iPad on her recent trip to Sri Lanka to casually mentioning cooking for Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, myself and the three other bloggers (Aoife and fellow expats Sharon and Tim) just sat and listened, enthralled. Still reeling, the bloggers all sat down to dinner together, where I had salt cod croquettes, pork osso bucco and carrageen moss pudding with poached rhubarb. (You can find the recipe for the salt cod here as well as Darina’s own recount of the evening.)
While Darina’s book features lots of recipes for things like homemade pasta, preserves, dandelion wine or even instructions on how to build your own cold smoker, there are also plenty of everyday recipes, such as this French bistro classic, poulet à l’Estragon. Darina says that casserole roasting is an almost forgotten skill that releases plenty of delicious juice while the chicken cooks in the moist, steamy atmosphere of a covered casserole. It also couldn’t be easier — 10 minutes of active cooking time yields the best chicken I’ve had in a long time. The Telegraph calls poulet à l’Estragon “possibly the best chicken recipe in the world”, and after standing over the pot greedily slurping up the sauce with a spoon, I’d have to agree.
Pot Roasted French Tarragon Chicken (Poulet à l’Estragon)
adapted from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen
Serves 4 to 6
Because this is such a moist method of cooking, it’s a good method to use if you’re dealing with a bird you know is a little tough or past its prime. Darina also notes that some chickens yield less juice than others, so if you find that you need more sauce, just add some chicken stock to the cream. She says this is also delicious without any cream, just the chicken juices, stock and fresh herbs. Try to find French tarragon for this recipe, as opposed to the more common Russian variety.
1 x 4 1/2 lb (2 kg) chicken
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh French tarragon, plus a few extra sprigs
2 tablespoons (30 g) butter, softened
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup (125 ml) cream
1/2 cup (125 ml) chicken stock (optional; see note above)
You will also need a casserole dish large enough to hold the chicken
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stuff a sprig of tarragon inside. Mix 1 tablespoon of the chopped tarragon with two‐thirds of the butter and set aside. Smear the rest of the butter over the breast of the chicken. Place the chicken breast side down in a casserole (aka Dutch oven) and let it brown over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken breast side up in the casserole and smear the tarragon butter over the breast and legs. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cover the casserole and cook in the oven for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you pierce the flesh between the breast and thigh. Remove the chicken to a carving dish and allow it to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
Place the pot with the juices over a medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of chopped tarragon to the juices in the pot. Add in 1 tablespoon of flour and whisk until smooth, then add in the cream. Bring to the boil and whisk until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the chicken with the sauce spooned over.