Gabrielle d’Estrées, who shared the same tastes for food as his king, and who proclaimed that Jurançon wine was the best wine in France, liked to please the monarch by often inviting him to savor a ‘Poule au Pot’. All this began with King Henry IV’s favorite mistress, with whom he had the same favorite foods. At that time, Henry IV’s wished that the ‘Poule au pot’ would be served once a week to every family in France and Navarre, the good gourmet king wanting a real weekly treat for each of his subjects.
The vow of the great king, whose name has remained so popular, is generally misunderstood nowadays. Most people believe that this dish was at the time just an old hen cooked in a soup or a ‘Pot au Feu Béarnais’, but it’s not that at all. Many are those who, by curiosity, tried to cook it with an old chicken and discovered then that the result was not so wonderful at all.
As we read it before, Mrs. Gabrielle d’Estrées in 1591, to please her loved king, used to cook the ‘Poule au Pot’ for him. Gabrielle was the daughter of the governor of ‘ L’Ile de France’, Baron de Boulonnais, who was also the father of eleven children including seven girls—called ‘the seven deadly sins’ as they were known for their role of courtesans. Their mother was referred to as ‘Madam whore hutch’.
It was said in the corridors that, previously, Gabrielle was sold to Henry III for six thousand crowns (French coins) by his mother but Gabrielle’s marriage with Henry IV was later forbidden by Pope Clement VIII.
It remains, nevertheless, that this story led to this famous dish, not a vulgar chicken broth but poetry, which became one of the most popular dishes in French cuisine. Now that we have done the curricula vitae of Gabrielle, who was only a courtesan looking for power, and her victim, George IV, we can come to this recipe which comes straight from the Béarn region of France.
The real wish of King Henry IV to these subjects was a desire to share the feeling of each bite of this dish: the taste of a hen stuffed with lean ham and lard. I personally add a bit of Foie gras to bring some softness to the ham and lard stuffing, some tarragon, garlic, egg yolks, a chicken liver, some parsley, shallots, leek whites, a carrot, a clove onion, some Caroline rice for the soup, a turnip, some coarse and fine salt, and some freshly ground black pepper ….
Now that the atmosphere has been set and story is settled, we must go to the market. You will need:
The Hen and its stuffing
A hen neither too young nor too old (about two years old), of course, a chicken coming from the farm
A bard of bacon big enough to cover the whole hen once stuffed
For the stuffing, 150 to 200 g of raw ham (Bayonne ham preferably)
50 grams of lard
The hen’s liver
3 whole eggs
A garlic clove
Parsley about 20 g once chopped
20 to 30 g of shallots
Some tarragon leaves
Bread crumbs, about 30 g
Three tablespoons of milk
Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg
Three liters of water
150 to 200 g of carrots
100 g of turnip
30 g of leek white
A medium onion stung with a clove
A small clove of garlic
A branch of celery
150 to 200 grams of rice Caroline, depending on whether you like your soup (with more or less rice).
The necessary equipment
A pot with a capacity of six liters
A meat grinder
A Small salad bowls to beat the eggs
A Long-handled wooden spoon
A Saucepan for the rice
Preparation of the hen
The chicken, having been plucked, must first be flamed, then emptied, then stuffed, and, finally, barded.
Cut the chicken liver into very small pieces as well as the ham (150 gr), and the lard, which should be added only if necessary, if the stuffing is too dry.
Break the three fresh eggs in a small bowl. With a fork, beat them lightly. Add some salt and pepper according to taste, add a very little amount of nutmeg.
Peel the shallot (twenty grams) and chop. Peel a nice clove of garlic (five grams) and a little bit of tarragon.
Add 3 tablespoons of cold milk, soak 30 gr of bread crumb inside.
In the bowl, add to the seasoned eggs this crumb soaked in milk as well as shallots, garlic, parsley, and tarragon.
With a fork, mix well.
Stuff the hen
You must first sew the hen, except to the rump where you have to leave a sufficient opening for the stuffing you’ve prepared.
Introduce this stuffing with a wooden spoon. From time to time, shake the hen to facilitate the mixing of the stuffing.
When your chicken is stuffed, finish by stitching the skin.
Bard the hen
With a large bard of bacon, wrap the chicken, hold this bard with small strings, not too tight, simply enough to attach it. Wrapping this way will keep its tenderness and perfect white flesh.
The cooking lasts two and a half hours from the moment the liquid starts to boil. The first step consists of placing the vegetables in the pot. The choice of the pot is important. You need a stew pot, not too big, but able to contain 6 liters of water.
The first hour of cooking
Add 3 liters of water into your pot and place the feet and hen gizzard inside. When it comes to a boil, add the full hen. The hen has to be covered by water, which is quite important. Wait until it boils again, skim carefully the water, salt moderately, and let the hen cook for 1 hour, on low fire, not totally covered by the lid.
During the cooking
Peel the vegetables: Carrots, turnips, 100 grams of leeks giving 30 gr of white leeks. Use only the white of the leeks. Add an onion poked with a clove, a branch of celery, another small clove of garlic, not peeled. Cut the carrots and turnips on the length into quarters, which will allow you to easily grab them when cooked.
After an hour of cooking
Add the vegetable you just prepared and let the dish cook 1 hour more.
How to cook soup?
This recipe provides a main dish and a soup made with rice at the same time.
The choice of rice
I absolutely recommend using Carolina Rice (superior rice).
Half an hour before serving, take ½ l of the broth coming from your pot, skim the broth with a strainer, and put the rice (washed) in it. Get it to a boil, close the fire and let your rice cook. Once ready, add some more broth to get a soup. Taste and, if necessary, add more the seasoning, salt, and pepper.
When it comes to powdered white pepper as much as black, always remember that it is important to use it freshly ground—this way is always best. Add it at the end of the cooking as the pepper deteriorates when cooked too much and loses its aroma.
The service includes a rice soup and boiled chicken, which must come on the table at the same time.
Place the soup in a large bowl and on a large round plate, the chicken, the carrots, turnips, and leeks around. The stuffing must be cut in fine slices.
Grandson of a famous Chef (his grandfather owned the Buffet de la Gare de Rennes (France) at the end of the 19th century), Thierry Guineau has accumulated forty years of culinary experience throughout the world. During his stay in Asia, he was recognized prodigious, draped in his jacket of Executive Chef at the Meridien of Jakarta, at the Holiday Inn Harbin China, at the Meridien of Phuket, the Sheraton Zhongshan in China, or at the Coco Beach Vietnam, to name a few. Today, he leaves in Mui Né, Vietnam and share his free time between consulting and professional training where he passes on his knowledge to the most disadvantaged.