This is one of those polarizing recipes that people either find fascinating or disgusting, possibly both simultaneously. It is a Jamie Oliver recipe for a whole chicken braised in milk scented with lemon peel, sage, garlic and cinnamon, with an end result of very tender chicken and very curdled-looking sauce. Doesn’t sound appealing, but I’ve made pork loin braised in milk, which is a classic Bolognese preparation, any number of times (and apparently never blogged about it). I’ve done versions by Marcella Hazan and Molly Stevens; the latter uses very similar flavors to this chicken dish, namely garlic, lemon and sage.
I came across a version of Jamie Oliver’s recipe that made the addition of rice to the milk braising liquid, essentially sopping up the juices as it cooks and eliminating some of the shock factor of the curdled sauce (I have served the pork version both as is and after pureeing the sauce to smooth it out; both are deliciously savory but the latter is less intimidating). Since we have been big fans of chicken and rice dishes lately, I thought that sounded like a great way to go.
The dish is actually a really easy one. You dry, season and sear a whole chicken on the presentation side until it is gorgeously brown; I used my oval Le Creuset which fit the chicken perfectly, and drained off most of the excess fat before continuing. Then I added 1 1/2 cups of long-grain rice to the dutch oven, toasting it for a nutty flavor before pouring in the whole milk and flavoring it with lemon peel (I only had dried, and used about a tablespoon), half a cinnamon stick, a bay leaf, a bit of rubbed sage, and 7 unpeeled garlic cloves. The chicken was nestled back into this mixture, about half submerged, and braised in the oven with just the last few minutes uncovered. It emerged with the browned skin still miraculously crisp and the meat incredibly tender (you can see it pulling away from the bone in the photo above), atop a bed of rice that soaked up the milk, spices and chicken juices like a sponge.
The meal still presented a bit of a conundrum when it came time to serve, however, because the chicken was too tender to remove as a single unit from the dutch oven for portioning, and most of the rice was buried underneath it. I was able to dig carefully around the chicken for scoops of rice and then pull big hunks of meat free; the breasts held together for this purpose much more cleanly than the legs and thighs, but it all tasted excellent.
Chicken Braised in Milk and Rice
1 (3 pound) whole chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 C long-grain rice
3 C whole milk
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 good handful fresh sage, leaves picked (or 1 tsp dried sage)
2 lemons, zested (or 1 T dried lemon zest)
8 garlic cloves, skin left on
Preheat the oven to 375F and find a snug-fitting heavy pot for the chicken. Season it generously all over with salt and pepper, and fry it in the olive oil, turning the chicken to get an even color all over, until deeply golden brown. Lower the heat, put the chicken on a plate, and drain off most of the fat left in the pot, reserving a tablespoon or two. Add the rice to this and stir to coat, cooking until some of the grains are lightly toasted. Add the milk and remaining ingredients, nestle the chicken down in the center, cover, and cook in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours.
To serve, pull the meat off the bones and divide it onto your plates. Be sure to scoop down beneath it for rice and silky caramelized garlic cloves (these can be squeezed out of their skins onto slices of bread).
You can also make this without the rice; just use 2 cups of milk and serve over the chicken, as is or pureed with an immersion blender for a smoother consistency (just remember to pull out the bay leaf and cinnamon stick first!), preferably with a side of mashed potatoes and some greens.