What Cooking 'En Cocotte' Means and Why I'm Obsessed With It
I realize that, if anything, the phrase “en cocotte” conjures up visions of terribly fancy and difficult French cooking, suitable only for trained Michelin starred chefs in their 80s. Don’t worry, I would not do that to you. And, as a matter of fact, what I want to talk to you about is as hands-off, easy, and fuss-free as cooking gets.
I only recently rediscovered en cocotte cooking because I wanted a roast chicken and I was having trouble with my kitchen exhaust fan. And, as you may know, the high temps needed for the perfect roast chicken tend to produce some smoke. So I started looking around for a way to cook this chicken without my smoke alarms alerting the fire department. And then I remembered en cocotte.
Before I go any further, all “en cocotte” means is cooking in a tightly covered pan… a “cocotte.” And I bet you have one, even if you don’t know it. For example, any Dutch oven-style pot is, in essence, a cocotte.
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But here comes the fun part. For a whole chicken (4-5 pounds), or a bone-in turkey breast (6-7 pounds), all you need to do is salt and pepper the meat, and then brown the fowl, breast side down in the pan with a bit of oil and some chopped aromatics (celery, onion, carrot, garlic, and an herb sprig or two) for about 5 minutes, then turn it over for another 6-8 minutes. Next, cover the pot with foil, put the lid on, and place in a very low-temperature oven (250 degrees or so) until the bird reaches the desired temperature. That is generally 160-ish for the breast, and 175 degrees for dark meat; it will take around 2 hours. Then tightly tent the bird to rest. And if you feel like it, make an easy gravy with the liquid in the pot. Done!
But I do need to warn you—this is not a recipe for crispy skin lovers. This is a recipe for those who cherish meltingly tender and moist meat above all else. In this cooking method, the skin is really only there to flavor the broth and protect the meat, and should be discarded after cooking. But between the bird and the incredible, deeply flavored juices—believe me, you are in for a treat. And, the only hands-on work you did was browning the bird. The rest was done in the oven, without you even peeking. And it only took around 2 hours! I know it’s never a good idea to say “never,” but at the moment, I’m so in love with this method that I may never use any other for chicken! And for anyone who thinks turkey breast is dry and tasteless, this is an absolute revelation.
And… no smoke!