Au Four Froid

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The French have a cooking technique that I have never encountered in the U.S., which is to place a meat to be roasted into a cold oven. This little coquelet, (with an egg next to it for size comparison), for example, goes into a cold oven which is then turned to 400° and left alone for 50 minutes, when it’s done to perfection. You can’t get a coquelet, which is a baby rooster, in the U.S. as far as I know, but there’s no reason this wouldn’t work with a chicken or even a guinea hen.

The French believe, and I’m starting to be convinced myself, that all poultry and white meats,

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like this melon de veau, veal stuffed with a delicious sausage mixture, should be started in a cold oven. They say that this helps keep the meat juicy and tender, because it doesn’t suffer a thermal shock on entering the oven. They also say that this technique permits the fat in the meat to melt gently as the temperature rises, and that the meat generally benefits from a slow-cooked start, with a hot blast at the end. The coquelet and the melon de veau definitely prove this point, and I’m curious to know what you think if you try this technique with a chicken or a guinea hen. I’ll tell you how I do the coquelet, and you can adapt it to the size of the bird you’re using. For reference, a coquelet feeds two people, so it’s about half the size of a chicken, and about twice the size of a guinea hen. Please do try this and report back – I’m very curious to know whether this French magic trick works in other countries!

Coquelet au Four Froid

1 coquelet (for 2 people)
olive oil
salt and pepper
thyme

Rub a baking dish with olive oil. Place a large pinch of thyme inside the bird. Rub the coquelet with olive oil, then salt and pepper it generously. Place it in the oiled dish, place the dish in a cold oven, then turn the oven to 400°F/200°C. Roast for 50 minutes. When done, cut the coquelet in half with shears and serve.

I’ve been serving them with a sauté of trompettes de la mort (black trumpet mushrooms) and a purée of celery root, which, altogether, makes a luscious combination. A light red like a Gamay suits this dish well.

Explore posts in the same categories: At Home In France, Posts Containing Recipes

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17 Comments on “Au Four Froid”

  1. Karen Chrestay Says:

    Hi, Abra & Shel — I’m living vicariously through your posts. Your writing is so lovely, it truly transports me to your table. I’ve used this technique many times on beef, particularly prime rib or whole tenderloin, and it works wonderfully. I make a thick paste of butter, herbs, garlic, S&P and slather it all over the roast, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight, then unwrap and put it in a cold oven. The starting temp is a bit higher and the cooking time longer, but the results are fabulous — the trick is NO peeking! I’ve never done it with poultry, but you have inspired me. I’m off to buy a chicken right now! (Guinea are a little hard to come by around here.) Karen Chrestay

  2. Kim Luis Says:

    What a fantastic idea to try. It’s logical and gives me some inspiration on this rainy holiday. Anytime I reward steak in the oven, I always start it in the cold oven as it seemed to keep it from drying out.

  3. Abra Bennett Says:

    That sounds delicious, Karen. More details, please! Cut of beef? Temperature?


  4. I’ impressed. I’ill give it a try. Thanks for the nice post.


  5. interesting indeed. I’ve roasted chicken this way in the past, just because I’m lazy and didn’t want to wait for the oven to warm up, I can’t say that I remember the difference but I sure wasn’t paying attention while gobbling up the whole bird🙂 I can see this working, and I’m gonna experiment a bit more, thanks for this post! you know what the technique is called in french?


  6. I’m impressed, ooooh the ‘m’…😉

  7. Eden Says:

    Because I used to be bad about pre-heating the oven, I cooked chickens this way for years without any problems.


  8. This makes total sense. It’s the same philosophy as a braise, where you keep the temperature low enough to melt the fat and collagen and not make the meat ‘tighten’ up.
    I’m curious, what happens to the skin of the bird? Does it crisp?
    And welcome back to France!

  9. Abra Bennett Says:

    The skin gets medium-crisp, but you could always torch it a bit, or put it under the broiler for a minute. I don’t think that crisp skin is prized here the way it is in the U.S.

  10. Diane Darrow Says:

    Abra, about how much does a coquelet weigh? I ask because the guinea hens we get here run 2-1/2 to 3 pounds, which I think must be considerably more than half the size of a coquelet.

  11. Abra Bennett Says:

    Hmmm, I don’t have a scale here, but I’d guess about 1 1/2-2 lbs. I was thinking of Cornish game hens, they’re about half the size of a coquelet. Sorry for the confusion, I had forgotten their correct name! If you can get a real guinea hen that will be bigger than a coquelet.

  12. Lauren Says:

    That’s how we do our prime rib also. It does make a lot of sense!

  13. Erin Says:

    I do bacon in the oven starting cold. I think more of the fat renders out and it’s crispy perfection after 20 minutes at 400 degrees with no messy stove top.

  14. Abra Bennett Says:

    Erin – I like that bacon suggestion. I often do it in the oven, but have never given it a cold start. I’ll give it a try when we’re back in the land of actual bacon.

  15. Nina L Says:

    I roast chicken breasts on the bone from cold. A little olive oil, salt and pepper, squeeze of lemon, and into an oven set to 375F. Takes about 40 minutes., and they are juicy and perfect. If I add a little stock, or wine, or water, after twenty minutes, the pan juices require nothing more for a nice gravy.
    I’m so glad you are back in France. I’m waiting for the courage to go on my own.

  16. Abra Bennett Says:

    Nina – I was so sorry to read about the loss of your husband. My sincere condolences.


  17. […] and mâche, with a very nice Monbazillac, then a plate of coquelet au four froid, whose recipe you can find here, with sides of the little stuffed cabbage leaves, Romanesco broccoli with beure noisette, a purée of […]


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