Oliver’s Chicken Stew, in a pressure cooker

After this week you might be forgiven for thinking that we’ve changed our name to Mastering the Art of French Carroting, or perhaps Babette’s Carrot.*  The prominence of carrots in the last three posts  was pure happenstance, answers to the question: What do we like to cook in the pressure cooker?  Turns out carrots figure in a lot of what we like, including this week’s recipe, Oliver’s Chicken Stew.

Oliver is our son, now a Brooklyn hipster and aspiring documentary filmmaker, but once an infant, with a writer dad working at home and a chef mom, who was not.  Jody took pity on the two of us, since I was trying to get my sea legs as a father, and needed something that I could just ladle out of the fridge and reheat in the brief lacunae between bottle nuking and  diaper changes (don’t think about that too hard).  Oliver’s Chicken Stew was born.  When Oliver grew old enough to reliably hold his old bowl he and I would “have a picnic” on Friday nights, i.e. sit on our platform bed while spooning chicken, carrots and leeks into our mouths and watching Stark Trek on the bedroom tv.**  When we graduated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, we brought the stew with us.      

Oliver’s Chicken Stew is still a regular on our table.  Tarragon gives it an elegant French spin that lives somewhere between licorice and fennel.  Don’t let the photo of the pile of ingredients intimidate you.  Basically everything gets dumped into the pot (or in this case, the pressure cooker).  It is, by far, the most requested recipe from our book.  Next week is a carrot-free zone, I promise.  Enjoy.  Ken

*After a glass of wine there’s something inherently absurd about carrots in literary titles.  A Carrot in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Bleak Carrot, Carrot and Carrot Juice.  Even European movie titles aren’t immune: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, Her Carrot; The 400 Carrots; I Carretoni; or. . . you get the drift.  Send me your best ones (1 per person, please–yes, I’m talking to you).  

**A sad day when we finally had to tell Oliver that the meaning of the word “picnic” was not, alas, “to sit in bed eating while watching science fiction.”  Our family still uses “having a picnic” to mean eating in front of the tv.

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Oliver’s Chicken Stew, in a pressure cooker


If you’re the sort of cook who likes getting a head start on things, assemble all of the ingredients before prepping them.  Rinse and dry the chicken, season the inside and out with salt and pepper, then place the lemon zest and thyme sprigs in the chicken cavity.   Let the chicken rest, giving the seasonings a a little extra time to work their magic while you prep the rest of the ingredients.


  • 1 4-pound organic chicken
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 springs fresh thyme + 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon cut in half + zest from one of the lemon halves
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal
  • 1 head celery, stalks peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal
  • 1 bunch leeks,  white and light green parts only, about 2 pounds, cut into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal, washed in warm water to remove sand
  • 1 head garlic, smashed and cloves peeled
  • ½ cup stellini or other soup pasta
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 6 thick slices crusty rustic bread
  • ¼  cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano


  1. Rinse the bird and pat dry.  Season inside and out with salt and pepper.  Put the thyme sprigs, one bay leaf and the lemon zest into the cavity of the bird.  Allow to sit 15 minutes or so as you prepare the remaining ingredients.  
  2. Put the bird, breast side up, on a trivet in the pressure cooker.  Add the carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, the thyme leaves and remaining bay leaf.  Pour the stock over the bird.  Lock the lid in place, turn the heat to medium-high.  When the pressure reaches high, lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes at high pressure.  After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the pressure to release naturally.  It will take about 10 minutes.
  3.  Carefully remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot (the vegetables will be very soft).  Put the vegetables in a dish, cover and keep warm.  Let the chicken cool on its own plate or shallow pan.   When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and pull the meat off the bones in large pieces.  Discard the skin and bones.
  4. Remove the trivet from the pot.  (I use the tines of a fork.) Put the pot back on the heat and simmer until the broth has reduced by about a cup.  Taste and continue simmering if it’s watery.
  5. 10 minutes before serving, bring the broth up to a boil, add the pasta, stirring now and then and cook to al dente.  Whisk in the butter, squeeze the juice from the lemons into the pot, then add the tarragon and parsley.  Return the chicken to the pot and heat through.
  6. Toast the bread and then brush with olive oil.  Sprinkle each slice with cheese.  Set 1 cheese toast in each of four warm deep dinner plates.  Add some vegetables, ladle the stew over everything and serve.

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Jody Notes:  

Oliver’s Chicken Stew was first published over 20 years ago in the Boston Globe Magazine in an article by Sheryl Julian, Boston Globe food editor.  It was a recipe I was making at the time for my toddler son, Oliver, who is now 25.  I was also serving it at Michela’s, the restaurant where I was chef.  It was a huge hit and to this day, people will stop me to talk about the recipe.

Fast forward 20 years.  I was leading a cooking-bike trip in Umbria and conversation turned to favorite recipes.  My new friend Kay, who I had only recently gotten to know, told me that her two grown daughters still asked for one of two family recipes when they were at home.  A lasagna recipe and a chicken stew recipe, that was kind of a pain in the neck because it had so many steps, and was named for someone’s kid.  It was Oliver.   

This recipe has had a 20+ year life of it’s own.  It has raised children, brought friends together, comforted ailing parents and friends and was a staple for our family.  I hope you incorporate it into your life if you haven’t already.

We’ve taken some of the “pain-in-the-neck” factor out of the recipe by using a pressure cooker to speed up the cooking.  It works well.  The veggies are comfortingly soft.  If you want them firmer, cook the chicken without the vegetables, and while it’s cooling, add the vegetables to the pot, cook 2-3 minutes on high pressure, then use the quick release method, by running the lid under cold water, to stop the cooking.  Remove them from the pot and proceed as above.


60 thoughts

  1. How do you make this without a pressure cooker…..I have to make this if only for the fabulous history…thanks

    • Basically you make it the same way–except it cooks longer, and you use 8 cups of stock instead of 4. Start with the chicken breast-side down in a deep soup pot, Dutch oven or similar. Add the stock, bring to a boil. If the stock is unsalted, season with salt. As soon as it comes to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, add the vegetables and seasonings. Season with pepper. The water should just barely be simmering. Poach the chicken for 15 minutes, then flip it over and continue poaching until it’s done. Check the vegetables periodically, beginning when you turn the chicken over. Remove the chicken and vegetables when they’re done, and proceed with the recipe as written above. The thing is, you’ll have more liquid, but I guarantee it will be delicious. Good luck. ken

  2. Oh, looks so wonderful and I will make this on the weekend… I love the pressure cooker recipes, it has become my new “favourite” kitchen tool, though I am using an electric version. I just wanted to also say how much I enjoy this blog, I had the pleasure of meeting you both with Marcy J, and she gave me the heads up when the blog started.

    Keep the fun recipes and running commentary coming!

  3. Beautiful recipe and photos! Your mention of Mystery Science Theater 3000 brought a smile to my face, also. What a lovely post full of great memories…for some reason The Carrot Who Loved Me is the first movie that came to mind, though I’m not a huge 007 fan. Very funny.

    • Ha! Good one! What I didn’t reveal in the post is that the weeks Jody didn’t made Oliver’s Chicken Stew we survived Friday nights with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (c’mon, the good kind, with the squeeze tube of sauce). Thanks for the comment. ken

  4. Thank you for the non-presssure cooker instructions. Today seems like a perfect day for this recipe…but it’s Friday during Lent so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

  5. Perfect post for yet another snowy day..I love this recipe and have made it many times but instead of noodles, I add matzoh balls (or shall we call them french dumplings)… and I finally broke down and bought a pressure cooker now I just need to brave the elements and get the stuff!
    Great photos and thanks for my favorite Friday morning entertainment….BA

  6. One of my favorite apres ski dishes! I like your tip in your book on the stove top version to keep the pasta separate, so you don’t end up with mushy pasta in whatever is leftover.

    • It’s always about the kitchen footprint, isn’t it? I have a thermomix that I use less often than I should, but every time I see a recipe that calls for lemon curd I stop myself. ken

  7. I have made this recipe since it first appeared in Sheryl Julian’s former Sunday Boston Globe column several years ago. It is without question one of my all-time favorite recipes, and surely one that families will enjoy for generations. Thanks for sharing again with such beautiful photos.

    • Great! As a rule we generally try not throw you on to your own devices. (“Okay, here’s a photo of the ingredients–now get to work!”) Sorry about the confusion–I’m going to edit the lines above the gallery next post.

  8. “The Carrot Seed” http://www.amazon.com/Carrot-Seed-60th-Anniversary/dp/0064432106

    Be careful of nuking bottles: Apparently they can lead to uneven heating and can scald a little one’s mouth.

    (typing this one-handed by the way: baby in crook of left arm, cat in lap. Talk about multi-tasking!)

    Meant to comment on the carrot fennel soup.Made a similar one in the pressure cooker in December and froze it in anticipation of having baby in crook of arm for a few months. Roasted my veggies and started the soup with some tomato paste, and no orange juice.

    Long live the pressure cooker!

    • Hi, Molly–Thankfully, I am long past the need to nuke bottles (and, for the record, I used to shake them as a kind of precautionary extra step). We actually stopped for several other reasons (plastic, milk integrity, etc.). But thank you for the heads-up. Once we had kids the pressure cooker became one of my favorite tools, especially as our kids got old enough to eat spicy food. There was a time when I was cooking chicken or beef curry in our every other week. Good luck with the new baby. Ken

  9. Wonderful reminiscences of picnics in bed in front of the TV. This chicken stew sounds like a real workhorse of a recipe, one that can be made time and time again for guests as well as family. Thank you for the instructions for those of us without pressure cookers.

    • Hi, John–I think you, of all people, know how much food is entwined with memory. It seems to me that early in our lives food is there to help us discover who we are; later it’s there to help us remember. Ken

  10. Jody & Ken, Thanks for a great recipe. This is not how i learned to make soup (okay, it’s not radically different, but . . . ), so it was surprisingly different – for the good. It never occurred to me to add lemon to the broth even though I often bake chicken with lemon. It was great!

    • Glad to hear it. This is a very flexible recipe. When we have leftovers–and a picnic–everybody got to add their own garnishes/finishing touches. When our son was still here he’d add sriracha, our daughter would take it straight, and Jody and I would use harissa or preserved lemon. Ken

  11. When I was growing up, we had the Betty Crocker International Cookbook and one of my favorite recipes was Tarragon Chicken. (With dried tarragon of course–no way would you be finding the fresh stuff in 1980s small-town Oklahoma!) I keep thinking I should try to make something like it again (that cookbook is long gone, by the way, but sure would be fun to look at now post-cookbook explosion). So funny that chicken and tarragon is some sort of perhaps universal child pleaser! So fun to read this. Thanks for your comments on how to make outside the pressure cooker. I still haven’t given in…

    • Hi, Sara–Funny, two of my most memorable experiences–the sort of thing that cause me to think, “I’ve never tasted this,” were as a student in Europe. Both simple dishes with sauces of butter or cream flavored with tarragon. The first was salmon and the second chicken. As a result tarragon is forever associated in my mind with French cuisine. Regarding Betty Crocker–my mom had the same cookbook! It would probably be pretty scary to look at now. Only one PC recipe left (for the moment). Ken

  12. What a sweet story and a good looking recipe! I have been resisting against purchasing a pressure cooker (for no reasons really, now that I thought about it), and was very tempted by the last recipe… but this one may just seal the deal :)

    • Jody’s out of town at the moment, but I THINK we’ve only got one more recipe coming down the line for this particular series (we need to give everyone w/out a PC a break). The problem with cooking from scratch is that after you reach a certain age it becomes increasingly difficult to eat anything that doesn’t have memories associated with it. I inherited very little culinary culture from my parents, but we’ve hoping our kids will take a lot of this stuff with them into their adult lives. Oliver, now living on his own, has become the serious cook in his apartment–he periodically calls and asks, “How do I cook _________?” He’s done risotto and this stew in his own PC so far. Thanks for the comment. Ken

      • I couldn’t agree more – A lot of recipes have stories for me, too, and that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy cooking (in addition to that I like eating good food of course). I think it’s fantastic your son is appreciating what you shared with him and making it into tradition. Thank you again!

  13. I’ve always been afraid to use a pressure cooker. So many horror stories about exploding pots. It seems you and Jody have managed to come through your pressure cooker expeditions with all your body parts intact, so maybe it’s time I overcome my phobia.

  14. This is a very delicious & easy stew/soup!!! I do suggest sauteeing & deglazing your giblets in the pot before adding all ingredients – it gives it the robust flavor that homemade chicken soup us known for. I find that our pot is so hearty that we skip the pasta. Thanks for a great recipe!!

    • Absolutely. There are lots of things you could do to make this a richer soup, especially for experienced cooks. Sautéing the vegetables first would have made a difference; so would adding some wine. But those are different soups. The point here was to show a soup that was delicate, simple and tasty, with the flavor of the aromatics predominant, and not much more effort than putting everything in a pot. But we do take your point. :-) Thanks for commenting. Ken

  15. I’ve got Oliver’s Chicken Stew cooking in my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker right now. It was exactly what I was looking for tonight – a pressure cooker recipe that uses a whole chicken (mine is 5#), and uses up all the leeks and most of the carrots from last week’s CSA box (and ISN’T cock-a-leekie soup!). I use an Instant Pot DUO 6 qt electric pressure multicooker (actually, I have two IPs, a DUO and a SMART), so I increased the chicken PC cooking time to 18 minutes at high pressure bc the IP’s highest psi is a little bit less than standard stovetop PCs and my chicken is a little bigger than the recipe’s. 18 minutes has always worked well for me when I cook a whole 4.5 to 5.5# chicken in an IP.

    I think I’m going to substitute sprouted/germinated brown rice (aka GBR and GABA rice) for the soup pasta. We are a gluten free family. I could use GF pasta but all I have on hand is penne, plus I also need to keep my carb intake much lower than the rest of the family, so I might even make the rice separately in the other Instant Pot (about 14 PC minutes, natural release) so that every family member can serve themselves their preferred amount of starch. I’m also going to substitute Trader Joe’s new gluten free bread – my teenage son really likes it toasted. I love adaptable recipes like this!

    • Hi, Pamela–Sorry, we’ve been out of the country abd off the grid so I didn’t see this. I’m going to have to throw you back on your own resources and say you’d use it the same way you would with any barley soup, i.e. make the stew (sans pasta) then cook the barley only in as much of the stew as you’re going to consume right away. Barley has a tendency to thicken things up after it’s been chilled. Alternatively, you could cook the barley separately in chicken stock, and add cooked barley just long to heat at the last moment before serving. What you don’t want to have is a big pot of stew leftover with barley already in it. Good luck. Ken

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