The title of this post should really be Romertopf Clay-Baked Chicken with Fresh Goat Cheese, Fennel Seeds, and Tomatoes. But that is too much of a mouthful.
Do you familiar with Romertopf pots?
They were first popular in the 1970’s, right now you can probably pick one up in a church bazaar sale for a few dollars. If you see one, purchase it immediately! Clay does the most wonderful things to food. In the words of Paula Wolfert in “Clay Pot Cooking“, most foods taste better cooked in clay. Food cooked in an unglazed clay pot acquires a taste and aroma best defined as “earthy”. There is also an accumulation of flavors that build when a particular unglazed pot is used over and over again. You know these pots, they are used extensively in the Mediterranean. The pots include the Spanish cazuela, Romertopf Clay Baker, Chinese Sandpot, Moroccan Tagine, plus various clay casseroles from around the world.
The types of clay include earthenware (which can be glazed, or unglazed and is sometimes called terra-cotta), stoneware (great for oven baking but should not be used on the stove), and the newer Flameware (which can be used on the stovetop and in the oven).
My curiosity about cooking in clay was first aroused by a little book “The Clay-Pot Cookbook – a new way of cooking in an ancient pot” written by Grover and Georgia Sales and published in 1974. Their choice of pot was the Romertopf. I used my own Romertopf extensively throughout the 70’s and into the early 80’s, and then relegated it (until recently) to the top kitchen cupboard.
What changed you might ask? I read several posts from Celia of the blog Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. Celia has an obsession with clay, it is catching. You can read more of her posts about clay cooking here. As a result the Romertopf came down from the cupboard. And what came next was this preparation of the most amazingly delicious and moist chicken I have had in years. Why did I send that pot away? What was I thinking? All I can say is that I am very happy I didn’t donate it to a rummage sale or Goodwill.
If you don’t have a clay baker use a large casserole with lid. It won’t be exactly the same but the flavors will still be wonderful.
On to my adaptation of the recipe. Ms. Wolfert uses a classic combination of fresh cheese, tarragon, and tomatoes. Tarragon is a tricky herb to grow in the garden and this time of year it has died back to the ground. I hope it will return in the spring, we shall see. Fennel has a similar anise like flavor so I substituted some toasted fennel seeds. For fresh cheese I used soft goat’s cheese. You could use tarragon (1 tablespoon chopped fresh) and ricotta or any other French style-style fresh fromage blanc.
Romertopf Clay-Baked Chicken with Fresh Goat’s Cheese, Fennel, and Tomato
- 1 frying chicken with the liver, preferably organic air chilled
- Kosher or sea salt and pepper, freshly ground
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 4 oz. fresh goat’s or other cheese
- 1/2 tablespoon toasted fennel seeds (toasted in a small heavy skillet until aromatic)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Soak the top and bottom of the Romertopf in water for at least 30 minutes before baking the chicken. It can stay longer but shouldn’t be shorter.
- Dry the chicken with paper towels, inside and out. Reserve the liver from the small package inside to use for the stuffing. Freeze the neck and giblets in your stock bag.
- Combine the garlic with pinches of salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Slip your fingers under the skin of the thighs and breasts to gently separate the skin from the meat without tearing. Insert small pieces of the butter/garlic mixture under the skin and massage into the flesh.
- Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper, wrap the chicken in paper towels and chill in the fridge for 1-4 hours (if you have time).
- Chop the chicken liver and mash it with the cheese, add salt and pepper, half the toasted fennel seeds, and the tomato paste.
- Stuff the chicken with this mixture and tie the legs together with kitchen string. Rub the outside with the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper.
- Place the chicken, breast side up, in the baker, cover with the lid, and set in a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 474 degrees F and bake until the chicken is tender (about an hour for 3 – 3 1/2 pounds, longer if larger).
- Remove the clay pot from the oven and place on a wooden surface or a folded kitchen towel to prevent cracking. Remove the lid and place on another towel. With tongs or kitchen mitts carefully transfer the chicken to a plate, tipping any juices out of the cavity into the pot. Strain the pan juices into a medium skillet. Skim the fat off the top and and reserve the juices.
- Place a small rack into the pot and replace the chicken, breast side up. Return the pot to the oven to finish roasting, uncovered, until done. An instant read thermometer should read 165 degrees F and the skin should be nicely browned.
- When cooked, transfer the pot to a wooden surface or folded towel to rest for at least 10 minutes.
- Grind the remaining toasted fennel seeds to a powder.
- Remove the cheese stuffing from the chicken and add it to the juices in the skillet. Whisk to blend. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until reduced by half. Add the fennel seeds. Cook for a minute longer.
- Carve the chicken and serve with the sauce.
Come join the party!