Flower Pot Chicken

The easiest way to avoid gluten or other foodstuffs you can’t eat is to avoid prepared/processed foods by cooking it yourself from whole, raw foods. If you buy a whole chicken in the store, it’s a safe bet it’s 100% chicken. The trick is having a variety of preparation techniques, including super easy ones for when you don’t have a ton of prep time or energy.

Alton Brown of Good Eats likes using unusual materials for cooking, such as terra cotta flower pots.  This turns out to be a great way to cook a chicken.

The pot has to be unglazed (you have no idea what’s in the glaze and you don’t want unknown chemicals touching your food).  You’ll want a pot and a saucer, with the saucer being a couple sizes bigger than the pot.

The saucer is base, and the pot (upside down) becomes the lid. There should be a drain hole in the pot that becomes a vent in the top.

Clay is used for cooking vessels around the world. It’s a great material – it’s cheap, it absorbs heat and radiates it nice and evenly. It also provides a heat shield to prevent burning. A dedicated clay cooking pot can cost up to $100 at gourmet cooking stores, but a clay flower pot and saucer will set you back $10 or so at a home improvement store. It doesn’t need to be huge – ideally, the pot will just cover the food without a lot of extra space. And, of course, it has to fit in your oven.

It is traditional to soak the pot in water before cooking, but I have found that to be an optional step, and don’t do it. The steam can help cook the bird, of course, but it can also give it a gray, bland texture, and get in the way of browning.

Put the chicken, breast up, on the saucer, spread a bit of oil or butter on the skin. My wife and I like to put some Sriracha pepper sauce on it and sprinkle with lime juice as well. You can stuff the cavity of the chicken with herbs and roughly chopped apples and onions for flavor (you don’t want to eat these after cooking – they won’t be that appetizing and may not get hot enough to kill any salmonella that seeps in from the bird). You can put chopped potatoes, sweet onions, cloves of garlic, and shallots – or any other hearty vegetables – around the side of the bird.

Stick a probe thermometer into the center of one of the breasts and run the lead through the drain/vent hole and put the lid in place. Stick in a cold oven and set the temperature to 350 degrees.

Why start in a cold oven? If you stick a cold pot into a hot oven, the thermal shock could crack the pot. Besides, why waste the heat from the pre-heat cycle? It’ll take a little longer, but it’s more efficient.

We actually throw the pot on the grill, on top of the brick paver we use as a pizza stone for extra protection from the flames. Works just as well.

Cook until the breast is 165 degrees fahrenheit.  (If you’re confident about your thermometer placement, cook until 160 and let the bird rest 10 minutes and it will coast to the desired 165.)  It’ll probably take about an hour to cook.

The chicken comes out nice and juicy, with golden brown skin. The fat from the bird renders out and helps cook the potatoes, onion, and garlic into a delicious greasy mess. The fat can fill up the shallow base and spills easily, so be careful when removing from the oven. 350 degree oil spills are no fun.

Clean the pot and lid the way you would cast iron – water and a stiff brush – no soap. The clay is very porous and the soap can get embedded and you don’t want that touching (and flavoring) your food next time.

Over time, the fat will bake into the clay, giving it a nice slick patina – a natural non-stick coating. After using it several times, cleaning becomes very easy.

You can, of course, use the pot to cook other foods. If it’s big enough, this is an easy way to cook a turkey (consider brining the turkey for a fool-proof Thanksgiving meal), and there’s no reason you couldn’t make a pot roast or other meat – anything that fits inside the pot.

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