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Meryl Streep’s favorite Julia Child recipe: Poulet Poele a L’Estragon or Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon

Meryl Streep’s favorite Julia Child recipe: Poulet Poele a L’Estragon or Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon
The Meryl Streep Version of the dish…
And mine…talk about falling off the bone.
Meryl as Julia 
         Who doesn’t love Meryl Streep?  With us, it’s degrees of loving Meryl Streep.  Over the weekend we saw her once again in “It’s Complicated” with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. It’s truly a very funny movie.  Our friend Ana is extolling the virtues of her latest movie “Hope Springs” which, of course, we plan to see. Meryl takes our breath away in movies like “The Iron Lady”.  She even renders a turkey like “Mama Mia” watchable.  But of all her recent movies, the one that combines our love for Meryl and for her subject matter is, of course, “Julie and Julia” where she is joined by the wonderful Amy Adams in a movie by Nora Ephron.  This was sheer perfection. 

PBS has put together a wonderful mash-up of our Julia. Watch it right here.
It’s really fun!

           Today, as the whole world celebrates what would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday, we could think of no greater salute than to select what is reportedly Meryl Streep’s favorite Julia Child recipe. It’s a tarragon-infused chicken roasted in a cast-iron Dutch oven.  The chicken is enriched with the butter-y aromatic steam so it achieves an amazing tenderness and an intense flavor.  A brown tarragon sauce that adds an even greater depth of flavor accompanies it. 

         At the very outset, I want to tell you that my execution of this dish was far from flawless.  In fact, practically the moment I started cooking this, I’d done exactly what Julia said not to do in her recipe: The chicken is first browned in butter and oil of all sides.  “Be sure not to break the chicken skin” is Julia’s admonition.  But my Coleman Organic Chicken tore apart right where the leg meets the breast.  And as I achieved a nice golden brown more and more skin disintegrated. But I was darned if I was going to abandon the dish, particularly since the aroma in the kitchen promised that the dish would taste incredible even if we had to close our eyes to eat it.  In the end, the chicken was so incredibly tender that, in addition to the torn skin, the whole thing fell apart as I put on the serving platter.  No amount of parsley could cover this up.  However, the very first bite made the look of the chicken completely unimportant: the bird could not have tasted better.  
           I thought back to the “The French Chef” where Julia dropped a potato pancake and scooped it up into a frying pan with the reassurance that what people didn’t see wouldn’t hurt them.  (By the way, that dropped pancake in the retelling became a Turkey and later a fish, none of which actually occurred but Ms. Child was kind enough to go along with the gag.)  I think that’s what we all loved about Julia. She made cooking accessible and took the fear factor out of it.
           So I don’t mind sharing my pretty dreadful looking but absolutely marvelous tasting Chicken with you. Here’s Julia’s original recipe.  And try not to break the skin.

Recipe for Julia Child’s Poulet Poele a L’Estragon or Casserole-Roasted Chicken with Tarragon from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (Alfred Knopf 1961) taken directly from the book.

For 4 people
Estimated roasting time: 1 hour and 10 to 20 minutes for a 3-pound bird.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
3-pound ready-to-cook roasting chicken
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon
Season the cavity of the chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Insert the tarragon leaves, or sprinkle in dried tarragon. Truss the chicken. Dry it thoroughly and rub the skin with the rest of the butter.
A heavy fireproof casserole just large enough to hold the  chicken on its back and on its side
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil, more if needed
Set the casserole over moderately high heat with the butter and oil. When the butter foam has begun to subside, lay in the chicken, breast down. Brown for 2 to 3 minutes, regulating heat so butter is always very hot but not burning. Turn the chicken on another side, using 2 wooden spoons or a towel. Be sure not to break the chicken skin. Continue browning and turning the chicken until it is a nice golden color almost all over, particularly on the breast and legs. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Add more oil if necessary to keep the bottom of the casserole filmed.
3 tablespoons butter, if necessary
Remove the chicken. Pour out the browning fat if it has burned, and add fresh butter.
1/2 cup sliced onions
1/4 cup sliced carrots
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
Cook the carrots and onions slowly in the casserole for 5 minutes without browning. Add the salt and tarragon.
1/4 teaspoon salt
A bulb baster
Aluminum foil
A tight-fitting cover for the casserole
Salt the chicken. Set it breast up over the vegetables and baste it with the butter in the casserole. Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the chicken, cover the casserole, and reheat it on top of the stove until you hear the chicken sizzling. Then place the casserole on a rack in the middle level of the preheated oven.
Roast for 1 hour and 10 to 20 minutes, regulating heat so chicken is always making quiet cooking noises. Baste once or twice with the butter and juices in the casserole. The chicken is done when its drumsticks move in their sockets, and when the last drops drained from its vent run clear yellow.
Remove the chicken to a serving platter and discard trussing strings.
Brown Tarragon Sauce
2 cups brown chicken stock, or 1 cup canned beef bouillon and 1 cup canned chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch blended with 2 tablespoons Madeira or port
2 tablespoons fresh minced tarragon or parsley
1 tablespoon softened butter
Add the stock or bouillon and broth to the casserole and simmer for 2 minutes, scraping up coagulated roasting juices. Then skim off all but a tablespoon of fat. Blend in the cornstarch mixture, simmer a minute, then raise heat and boil rapidly until sauce is lightly thickened. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more tarragon if you feel it necessary. Strain into a warmed sauceboat. Stir in the herbs and the enrichment butter.
To serve
Optional but attractive: 10 to 12 fresh tarragon leaves blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water then rinsed in cold water, and dried on paper towels
Pour a spoonful of sauce over the chicken, and decorate the breast and legs with optional tarragon leaves. Platter may be garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley or — if you are serving them — sauteed potatoes and broiled tomatoes.
If the chicken is not to be served for about half an hour, make the sauce except for its butter enrichment, and strain it into a saucepan. Return the chicken to the casserole. Place the aluminum foil over it and set the cover askew. Keep the casserole warm over almost simmering water, or in the turned-off hot oven, its door ajar. Reheat and butter the sauce just before serving.

2 thoughts on “Meryl Streep’s favorite Julia Child recipe: Poulet Poele a L’Estragon or Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon”

  • Lovely recipe snd photos.
    The adds for a rat eating out of a pot and for earwax are nauseating.
    Just saying this is not right to Julia Child!

    • Dear Nancy, I am glad you liked the recipe and photos. But I am not seeing the ads you are talking about. On my page, both ads were for recipe tools. I agree with you most heartily that the rat and earwax don’t belong anywhere near ANYTHING on Chewing The Fat. Would you mind taking a screen shot and sending it to me at [email protected]. I will alert my advertising partner and have it removed. Thanks so much for pointing this out!

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