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Monday, March 11, 2013

For a great go-to chicken, go to Provençe

Picnic in Provençe 

You know how everyone has a go-to company recipe? Or they should? Something you make when you can’t think of something to make? 

A good to-go recipe should have a good input/output ratio, meaning the amount of work you put into it should be far less than the amount of ooohs and aaaahs you get when serving it. It should be the kind of recipe that makes people say, “I can’t believe something this good is this easy.”

Olive-picking in Provençe
My go-to company recipe is roast chicken. Well-made roast chicken with a little olive oil massaged into the skin and plenty of herbs scattered on top, is a fine thing. Roast chicken with lots of fresh rosemary and chopped garlic mixed with softened butter and slid under the skin is an even more wonderful thing. But this roast chicken dish is a sublime thing. Your house will smell of Provençe, of licorice-y fennel and sweet garlic, of rosemary and thyme and wine. If you close your eyes you can almost hear the traffic on the Boulevard des Anglais.

Pussycat in Provençe

In addition to the excellent input/output ratio, this recipe meets my other criteria for a good go-to recipe: it’s eminently flexible. No tomatoes? Leave them out! No Niçoise olives?Try a different kind—or leave them out, too! The only requirements: the fennel, plenty of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and the herbs. Oh, and the chicken. Everything else is entirely optional. I’ve mentioned several alternative ideas in parenthesis in the recipe.

Panorama in Provençe
When pickin’ a chicken: While most chefs recommend brining for a moister bird, I just buy kosher chicken, which has already been salted and, to me at least, ends up moister and more flavorful. If you don’t have access to kosher chicken (what, you don’t live in Noo Yawk?), do try brining. The difference, particularly in the white meat, will be noticeable.

Perfect chicken from Provençe

Roast Chicken Provençal
Adapted from a cooking magazine recipe from many years ago

Serves: 4
8 large shallots (or onions)
6 ripe plum tomatoes, quartered (or canned, or none at all)
¼ cup dry white wine (optional, but good)
1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts (or canned, or jarred)
1 fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, cut lengthwise into eighths
1 garlic head, cloves separated, unpeeled
2/3 cup brine-cured olives, such as Niçoise (or another type, or leave them out)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (no substitutes here, make it fresh!)
2 TB chopped fresh rosemary or 2 tsp dried, crumbled
2 TB chopped fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried, crumbled
1 cup chicken broth (can be eliminated, in which case add a bit more wine)
1 4-pound chicken
1.     Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°.
2.     Place first 5 ingredients into a large roasting pan. Pour lemon juice and oil over, moistening evenly. Sprinkle with herbs and season with salt and pepper.
3.     Pour ¾ cup chicken broth into pan. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to pan. Roast 1 hour, basting with pan juices occasionally.
4.     Increase oven temperature to 450° and roast until chicken is brown and crisp and juices run clear when thigh is pierced with knife, basting frequently, about 20 minutes longer.
5.     Transfer chicken to a platter. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots, artichokes, fennel, olives, and all but 6 garlic cloves to the platter with the chicken. Cover to keep warm. Discard skin from the 6 reserved garlic cloves and place in processor; add contents of roasting pan and process until smooth. Thin with remaining broth if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer sauce to a serving bowl. Serve with chicken. (Note: I make this dish often just for family and don’t bother making the sauce, serving the roasted vegetables alongside the chicken with a little sauce drizzled over.)


  1. Love the input/output ratio rule - we'll try sticking to this the next time company comes over!

    And though I'm a vegetarian, this chicken sounds delicious!

  2. That's a very high compliment! Thank you.