Chicken cooked on a “nest” of pine needles in a sealed pot, served with a colorful vegetable jardinière
One of my “specialties”, inspired by French 3-star chef Alain Passard, is a chicken cooked on hay in a cast iron pot tightened with a bread-type seal. I already adapted a couple of times this recipe where I substitute pine needles to the hay. By the way, I should suggest this twist to Alain Passard! This method, either with hay or pine needles, each of them having its own personality, i.e. fantastic flavors, are probably for me the best ways to cook chicken… although I like it in a salt crust or simply roasted in a rotisserie. Sorry, Samin Nosrat, but needless to add some external components such as the fat and the acidity of buttermilk to obtain a very moist and fantastically flavorful chicken.
So here it is, the illegitimate child of the unlikely mating between a hay chicken and a pine needle églade, the pine needle chicken.
To be noted that I improved a little bit my method, incorporating salt and egg whites in the dough meant to seal the cooking pot: it avoids that the dough falls off the pot at the beginning of the cooking, which sometimes happened with the flour and water-only.
Levels of difficulty
For the “sealing dough”:
§ 1 cup of flour
§ ½ cup of sea coarse salt
§ 1 or 2 egg whites
For the chicken:
§ 1 chicken (here 3-4 lb)
§ 2 tbsp of butter at room temperature
§ ½ dozen of garlic cloves
§ 1 stem of celery (but you can also use tomatoes or fennel greens for instance)
§ 1 or 2 handfuls of dry pine needles – long pine needles are required such as those from pines growing by the sea side: stone pine (the one giving the pine nuts, aka parasol pine) or maritime pine
For the sides:
Follow your inspiration, here some mixed vegetables, but to play the “pine” card, I like to add:
§ 1 handful of toasted pine nuts
And of course a cast iron pot
§ Make the sealing dough: mix the flour, the salt and the whites together, and the minimum quantity of water required to obtain a firm dough. Knead it roughly and roll it to form a “sausage” long enough to cover the circumference of your pot
§ S&P the inside of the chicken, and stuff it with the crushed garlic cloves, the celery segments (and/or any other relevant vegetables and herbs)
§ Rub the chicken with the butter, on all parts but focusing on the breasts and around the thighs
§ Place the sufficient quantity of pine needles on the bottom of the pot, to make a comfortable nest for your chicken
§ Place the chicken on its nest, breasts up
§ Put the lid and circle it with the dough “sausage”. Squeeze the dough firmly with your hand so that it adheres on the pot and creates a correct sealing (see pix below)
§ Place in preheated 450 F oven (or 25 F less if you have efficient/convection oven) and cook for 90 minutes (to adjust if your chicken is bigger)
§ After 90 minutes, take the pot out of the oven, DO NOT OPEN the pot, but let it rest for another 30 minutes on the corner of your stove
§ After having respected this resting time, break the seal, take off the lid and, leaving the chicken in the pot, grill it for 4 or 5 minutes (check as it may depend on your oven) under the broil to finish "coloring" the breast skin
§ Carve the chicken and be sure to collect all the delicious juice rendered when you do that
§ I served it here with mixed vegetables (carrots, parsley roots, potatoes, purple potatoes, celery, asparagus….) cut in brunoise and completed by toasted pine nut seeds.