How to make a simple roast chicken, according to a French mom

Like little black dresses, you can never have too many roast chicken recipes. Especially the French guy.

So when Florence Chapgier, a Paris-born reader living in Los Angeles, emailed me this recipe from her French mother, Christiane Baumgartner, for Roasted Chicken with Tarragon, Butter and Cognac, I immediately gave it a try.

Chapgier’s name for the dish, “French Roast Chicken,” conveys its origin but not its distinctive character.

The brilliance of the recipe is the alchemy between copious amounts of butter as it blends with caramelized chicken juices, plenty of fresh tarragon and licorice, and a heady dash of cognac.

The dish has so few ingredients that Chapgier recommends looking for high-quality ones: a corn-fed chicken (“just like South West France”), a splendid VSOP cognac (“you don’t use that much”), and gray sea salt. I tried the recipe with a regular chicken, California brandy, and kosher salt from my local grocery store, and it was still absolutely phenomenal. So, use the best ingredients you can handle, but don’t worry.

The roasting technique itself couldn’t be simpler: salt the bird, let the skin dry out a bit, then coat it with softened butter and tarragon, and roast at 400 degrees. When the chicken is cooked through, turn off the heat and drizzle with the cognac and pan juices. Let sit for 10 minutes in the cooling oven to soak up all the flavors, then slice, drizzle the meat and tanned skin with lots of butter, schmaltzy, herb drippings, and serve.

Chapgier had a note about adding the brandy. Turn off the heat before returning the alcohol-soaked bird to the oven. The one time he forgot, the intense heat set the brandy on fire and shattered the glass in the oven door. (“That was a surprise,” he wrote.) This French bird, unlike coq au vin, does not improve with flambé.

To complete the meal in the most classically French way, serve it with potatoes (roasted, fried, gratin, or best of all, mashed or mashed) to soak up every last drop of the fragrant sauce. A bed of soft polenta is a less traditional but just as delicious alternative. Add a crisp green salad and a nice bottle of wine, et voilà.

With the roast chickens, as with the little black dresses, simplicity is sophistication, and in this case, it’s a stunning meal.

Recipe: Roast Chicken with Tarragon and Cognac

by melissa clark

The sophisticated French flavors of brandy, butter, and tarragon season this golden-skinned roast chicken, adding flair to what would otherwise be an easy and straightforward recipe, adapted from Christiane Baumgartner through her daughter, Florence Chapgier, a reader. . Serve it with mashed potatoes or polenta, a soft bed to soak up all the heady, buttery juices. And if you’re not a fan of tarragon, fresh thyme makes a great, milder substitute.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 2 1/2 hours


1 (4 pound) whole chicken

2 teaspoons coarse gray sea salt or 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 bunch fresh tarragon, leaves and young stems coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)

2 tablespoons of cognac

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1. Dry the chicken and season the bird inside and out. Transfer to a plate or baking dish, preferably on a wire rack, and refrigerate uncovered for at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. When you are ready to cook the chicken, heat the oven to 400 degrees.

3. In a small bowl, combine the butter, tarragon, 1 tablespoon brandy, and pepper. Rub the mixture into the cavity of the chicken and over and under the skin of the chicken.

4. Place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet or large ovenproof skillet. Grill, breast side up, until skin is golden and crisp, and juices run clear when you insert a fork into thickest part of thigh (165 degrees), about 1 hour.

5. Turn off the oven (don’t skip this step, as you don’t want the cognac to overheat and catch fire) and transfer the pan with the chicken to the stove. Pour the remaining tablespoon of brandy over the bird and drizzle with some of the juices from the buttery pan. Immediately return the chicken to the turned off oven and let it rest there for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

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