Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


After an extended break for summer, the crew from That Cookbook Thing II are back with the next installment from Mastering The Art of French CookingPoulet au Porto.  This was an especially nice recipe for me not only because I got to use a few of the major food groups (Cream, Mushrooms and Port) but also because we made the Perfect Roast Chicken!

Since this thing started, I’ve been harassing everyone to make Julia’s Roast Chicken.  It’s an incredibly fussy recipe with flipping from side-to-side what seems every couple of minutes, but if you try it, you will be hooked.  The chicken comes out so moist and flavorful, you’ll wonder how it could be so different than any other roasted chicken.

Well, on to the recipe:


  • 3-4 lb roasting chicken
  • Salt
  • 4 TBS butter, softened
  • 2 TBS oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°. Sprinkle the chicken (inside and out) with salt. Rub skin of chicken with 2 TBS butter. In a small bowl, combine 2 TBS butter with the oil.

Place the chicken, breast up, in a large shallow roasting pan and place the pan in the middle of the preheated oven. Allow the chicken to brown lightly for 15 minutes, turning it on the left side after 5 minutes, on the right side for the last five minutes, basting with the combined butter and oil after each turn. Reduce the heat to 350°. Leave the chicken on its side and baste every 10 minutes, using the fat in the roasting pan once all of the butter and oil have been used. Carefully watch the temperature and regulate the heat so the chicken is making “cooking noises”, but the fat is not burning.

Halfway through the estimated cooking time, turn the chicken on its other side and continue basting every 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes before the end of the estimated roasting time, turn the chicken breast up and continue basting. Indications that the chicken is almost done are a sudden rain of splutters, a swelling of the breast, the drumstick is tender when pressed and can be moved in its socket. Another check is to prick the thickest part of the drumstick with a fork. The juices should run clear yellow. When done, set the chicken on a hot platter for at least ten minutes prior to carving.

While the chicken is roasting:

  • 1 lb. Fresh Mushrooms
  • ¼ cup of Water
  • ½ TBS Butter
  • ½ tsp Lemon Juice
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 1 cup Whipping Cream
  • ½ TBS Cornstarch
  • ½ TBS Minced Shallots or Green Onions
  • 1/3 cup Medium Dry Port
  • ¼ cup Cognac
  • Salt and Pepper

Trim and wash the mushrooms.  Quarter them if large, leave whole if small. 

Bring the water to boil in a 2 ½ quart saucepan with the butter lemon juice and salt.  Toss in the mushrooms, cover, and boil slowly for 8 minutes.  Pour out cooking liquid and reserve.  Pour cream and cornstarch (blended with a bit of the cream first) into the mushrooms.  Simmer for 2 minutes.  Correct seasoning (“Stop checking the seasoning, Mike!  We need SOME of the cream and mushrooms for the rest of the recipe!” – the Stove) 

Pause now until the chicken comes out of the oven.  Move the chicken to a platter and cover to let rest.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan and place over the stove.  Stir in the shallots or onions and cook slowly for one minute.  Turn the heat to high, add the port and the mushroom juice, and boil down rapidly, deglazing, until the liquid is reduced down to about ¼ cup.  Add the mushrooms and cream (“mmm…cream”) and simmer for 2-3 minutes, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly.  Correct seasoning and add a few drops of lemon juice to taste.

Smear the inside of a casserole or chafing dish with butter.  Rapidly carve chicken into serving pieces.  Sprinkle lightly with salt, and arrange in the dish.

Set over medium heat until you hear the chicken begin to sizzle.  Pour cognac over the chicken.  Avert your face, and ignite the cognac (“Fire!”).  Shake the pan slowly until the flames have subsided.  Then pour in mushroom mixture, and baste the chicken.  Cover and steep for 5 minutes without allowing the sauce to boil.  Serve immediately.

What can I say?  It was incredible!  I mean, c’mon, how can you go wrong with the Perfect Roast Chicken, Cream, Mushrooms, Butter and Port?  You can’t.  Those would even make a weekend with your mother-in-law good.  What I did differently or at least perceived differently:

  • I quartered the mushrooms.  I like chunks of mushrooms and as I read the recipe, I pictured quartered mushrooms.  I used ½ pound button mushrooms (to retain the 1961 flavor) and ½ pound of crimini mushrooms for a more earthy flavor.
  • I cut the chicken up into six pieces instead of carving it.  I wasn’t sure if that’s what I was supposed to do, but I thought it would make a nice serving presentation for less than 7 people.  I did just what Julia said to do and served it with simple side dishes – boiled potatoes with chives and carrots.

That’s it – I try to follow Julia’s recipes to see what they taste like to a 21st Century palate.  And let me tell you, it still tasted damn good!

Here’s the members who have made it so far:


October 4, 2008 Posted by | Main Dish, Recipe, That Cookbook Thing II | 3 Comments