Poulet Provencal

Sounds fancy doesn’t it?  This is really chicken in a pot with olives and tomatoes.  And it’s darn good – fancy or not.  It’s terrifically easy too.  The perfect end to a day I spent working in Panera and B&N while some folks started the central air installation in my house.  After breakfast and lunch out I couldn’t face takeout.  I had a few friends stopping by tonight so I needed to make something that didn’t require a lot of prep time or a lot of attention.  My only regret is that no one stayed for dinner!  They really missed out.

I didn’t even have to go shopping this was so easy.  Just onions, tomatoes and olives.  A few herbs – a pretty modified version of herbes de provence – and that’s it.  In the end this is really just braised chicken.  Braising is about cooking meat with a combination of moist heat and dry heat.  What’s important here is making sure that the chicken isn’t submerged in the liquid.  That would be poaching or just plain boiling.  With the chicken on top of the vegetables and no lid on the pot it allows the liquid to cook from the bottom and the oven element to cook from the top.  I used the convection setting on my oven to get some additional dry heat from the air circulation.  That helped make a crispy, brown skin on the top of the chicken.  It was beautiful and so, so moist.

There are a lot of herbs in a true herbes de provence.  You have several options here.  If you don’t keep lots of herbs in the house you might be best off to buy a commercial herb mix.  That will be less expensive and you won’t end up with a cabinet full of spices you won’t use.  If you keep most or all of the necessary spices in the house you can mix your own.  I left out a lot tonight so this isn’t really a poulet provencal, but close enough for me.  I used 3 parts oregano and thyme to 1 part basil and parsley, plus some minced garlic, kosher salt, cracked black pepper and a tablespoon of olive oil.  That left out rosemary, savory, fennel seed and marjoram.  Like I said – close enough.

The recipe calls for braising a whole chicken. I had only thawed two large chicken breasts and honestly that was enough.  It takes about 45 minutes to cook pieces this large on the bone and another 10 before you should serve it or start pulling the chicken off the bone.  There’s very little chopping so the prep time is pretty short.  Plan for just over an hour from start to finish, but for most of that you’re not doing anything except smelling the yummy aromas coming from your oven.

As you see in the picture the presentation of the whole piece is beautiful.  These pieces were so large that they needed to be cut for eating anyway so I just pulled all the chicken off of the bones and mixed it in to the sauce.  It isn’t as pretty, but it’s a lot easier to eat.  If you’re serving guests (and you absolutely should) I recommend this approach.  Serve it with some rustic, crusty bread for soaking up the sauce.  Yum!

Good? Very good.  Sometimes simple flavors are the best.
Easy? Absolutely. The only thing fancy is the name.
Good for company? You bet.
Special shopping? Nope. Probably not even a grocery run.

Poulet Provencal

Ingredients

1 quart or one 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 large onion, cut into wedges, leaving root ends intact
1/2 cup drained brine-cured black olives, pitted if desired
4 large garlic cloves, sliced, plus 1 teaspoon minced
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence, divided
2 large chicken breasts, with skin, on the bone or 1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds)

Directions

Preheat convection oven to 400°F or regular oven to 425°F with rack in middle.

Toss together tomatoes, onion, olives, sliced garlic, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 13- by 9-inch or other 3-quart shallow baking dish. Push vegetables to sides of dish to make room for chicken.

Stir together minced garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, remaining teaspoon herbes de Provence, and remaining tablespoon olive oil.

Rub chicken with seasoning mixture on top of and underneath the skin. If using a whole chicken tie legs together with string, then put chicken in baking dish.

For whole chicken roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of a thigh (do not touch bone) registers 170°F, about 1 hour in convection oven; 1 to 1 1/4 hours in regular oven. For split breasts roast 45 minutes.

Let chicken stand 10 minutes before carving. Serve with vegetables and pan juices.

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