With summer finally drawing to a close and the first day of fall only days away, the sun is migrating south in the sky and taking its sweltering heat with it. As the warmth wanes, the crisp autumn breeze sets trees ablaze in shades of yellow and vermillion in an ironic farewell to the warmer months of the year. I love this time of year, not just for the respite from the oppressive heat of summer, but because it signals the return of my desire to cook.
I decided to kick autumn off this year with a delightfully rustic French braise: Poulet à la Moutarde. While French food is notorious for being laborious, this dish only takes about 15 minutes of actual work. The rest of the time is spent in the oven morphing a few simple ingredients into one of the most unexpectedly delicious meals I’ve had in a long time.
The original dish, Lapin à la Moutarde is made with a cuter, furrier critter than chicken, but the last time I did a recipe using rabbit, I was subjected to an endless stream of abusive comments. Besides, chicken is easier to find in most parts of the world, and tastes almost as good, provided you use free-range chicken that’s gotten plenty of exercise.
Usually when a pan ends up looking like this, it means that something went horribly wrong, but this is what gives Poulet à la Moutarde its characteristic flavor. The glorious ebony coating is almost-burnt mustard and caramelized chicken juices, which is the key to making this sublime French braise. The thick layer of dark fond gives the sauce a marvelous earthy flavor that’s not nearly as pungent or sour as you might imagine. Just be sure to use a high quality French dijon like Maille.
Then you just add some onions and shallots to caramelize in the pot before deglazing with a healthy glug of crisp chablis. A little crème fraîche is added to mellow out the sauce and then the whole pot goes into the oven to braise until the chicken is ready to disintegrate. If this sounds pretty amazing, that’s because it is!
Serve the Poulet à la Moutarde with the rest of the Chablis, some crusty bread or over egg noodles and you’ll be ready for the cooler months with this soul-warming classic.
- Tie the bay leaf and thyme together with kitchen string to make a bouquet garni.
- Salt and pepper the chicken on all sides and then coat with the mustard.
- Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat until hot. Add the butter and swirl to coat and then place the chicken skin-side down in the pot. Let the chicken brown on one side until the mustard is almost burnt, and then flip and brown the other side. It's okay if some of the browned mustard sticks to the pan and comes off the chicken as you'll be able to scrape it up later after adding the liquids. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
- Add the shallots and onions and saute until tender and browned.
- Add the white wine, chicken stock, and bouquet garni and bring the mixture a boil over high heat. Use a spatula to scrape the mustard up off the bottom of the pot. Continue boiling until it no longer smells of alcohol.
- Turn off the heat and then return the chicken to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add the creme fraiche and stir to combine.
- Cover with a lid and braise in a 350 degree F (180 C) oven until the chicken easily falls off the bone when prodded with a fork (about 40-50 minutes).
- Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread, egg noodles, or roasted potatoes.