This recipe is a collaboration between Chef David Baruthio and myself. It’s one of the 22 great recipes that is now available in The Braiser Cookbook. In it, you’ll find many more recipes that have been specifically developed for the braiser.
Chicken Cooked on a Nest of Thyme // Étouffée de Poulet sur un Nid du Thyme
1 organic whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1 huge bouquet of thyme (about 6 ounces or so)*
1 head garlic
2 lemons, washed and cut into fourths
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Cut the top off 1/2 inch off of the the garlic head to expose the cloves. Separate about 5 cloves from the head; keep the remaining head intact. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Place the five separated cloves, 3 sprigs of the thyme, and 2 of the lemon pieces inside the chicken. Sprinkle the inside of the chicken with salt to taste—preferably fleur de sel. (No pepper needed, says Le Chef. Plenty of other flavor here.)
3. (Below): Heat the olive oil in a braiser or deep oven-going skillet with ovenproof lid over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the chicken and cook, turning as needed, until the chicken is light golden on all sides. You don’t want it to brown. (Marquer en cuisson, in the chef’s words: “marked with cooking”—colored by cooking, but not so much that it’s brown).
Okay, maybe slightly golden brown, but absolutely no more than this:
4. Drain all but a sheen of fat from the skillet. Reserve the drained fat. Separate just a few more garlic cloves from the garlic bulb and add those, along with the remaining bulb, to the skillet. Also add the “cap”–that thin slice that you cut off the top in Step 1. Let them brown a bit in the sheen of fat. Add a little of the reserved fat, if needed, if the pan is too dry. (“But,” says the chef, “You do not want to deep fry it!” So don’t add too much oil.)
Turn as needed:
3. (Below): Remove the garlic from the skillet. Drain off all the fat (reserve). Add the remaining thyme sprigs to the skillet. Scatter evenly.
5. Place the chicken on top of this “nest” of thyme. Arrange the garlic cloves, cap, and remaining bulb around the chicken. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon pieces over the chicken. Arrange the squeezed lemon halves around the chicken. Pour the cooking fat back over the chicken. Salt the chicken to taste. Cover the pot and place it in a preheated 400°F oven.
Here’s a video of that step. David is speaking French, but you totally get the idea:
7. Allow chicken to stand for 10 minutes before carving into pieces to serve. Discard the lemon and thyme, but serve a few garlic cloves on each person’s plate. Soft and warm and spreadable, it makes a wonderful condiment
I loved this preparation for chicken. It called for just five ingredients (plus salt), but resulted in a luscious, moist bird that had subtle but insistent aromas of the lemon, garlic, and thyme.