My wife’s family used to own a beautiful place in Provence and I wish we had known each other then. I love to listen to her stories as she describes the Domaine de Fontcougourde as an old rustic building that had been converted into flats and sat alone above a bubbling, cold, cold river (which on hot summer days was a welcome relief!). It was surrounded by the vineyeards belonging to the local château, the Chateau de Berne, and in the distance, glimpses could be caught of the Alpes Maritimes, permanently snow-capped, despite the blistering heat.
Caro’s favourite pastime was going to the street markets in the local villages round about; Lorgues, Salernes, Cotignac. She would get there early in the morning, which as any discerning market-goer in France knows is the best time to go and first order a chicken from the woman who had a van converted into a rotisserie, telling her what time she’d be back to collect it. The woman then spent the intervening time regularly basting the chickens in their own jus, garlic and herbes de Provence so they were truly scrumptious by the time they were ready for collection. In the meantime, Caro simply pottered around the market, buying herbs and other provisions for the larder, picking up cheese direct from the cheesemakers themselves, a fresh baguette and fruit to eat later with the chicken. Then she’d cross to a bar/cafe/bistro for a citron pressé or beer and watch the world go by. My idea of heaven on earth? Envious? maybe, just a soupçon
According to any of the great writers on Provençal cuisine, there are three important features in the cooking of Provence, which are olive oil, garlic, and herbs de Provence or the pungent pissalat, a purée of anchovies blended with olive oil. In fact, “the olive tree is king”, according to Jean-Noël Escudier, the author of an important book on Provençal food, ‘La Véritable Cuisine Provencal et Niçoise”. Everyone knows that good cooking does not happen unless a good oil is used, well Provençal cuisine can’t exist without garlic either. This recipe is no exception. One of the things I love about cooking Provençal Chicken is that once again there are very few ingredients and yet the end result would make you believe very differently. I think the key to this dish is two-fold, the length of time you pan-fry the flour dusted chicken pieces and the quartered lemons which roast and ooze their juices and release their sweet fragrance.
- 12 large chicken thighs, skin on
- A good handful of plain flour
- A generous pinch of dried herbs de provence
- A pinch of sea salt
- A pinch of freshly milled black pepper
- A very generous glug of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lemons, quartered
- 4 shallots, peeled and halved
- 8 cloves of garlic
- A large glass of vermouth or very dry white wine
- A few sprigs of fresh lemon thyme.
- Preheat the oven to 230o/gas mark 8
- Pat the chicken pieces dry and then place on a plate.
- Add the flour to a bowl adding the herbs, salt and pepper.
- Dredge each piece of chicken through the flour dusting off any excess then place back on the plate.
- In a large heavy based, oven proof casserole, heat the olive oil. Then add the chicken and sauté, until each piece is browned all over.
- Next add the garlic cloves, followed by the shallot pieces and lemons in between the spaces before pouring over the vermouth or white wine. Bring to the boil.
- Place the casserole, uncovered into the preheated oven for 30mins
- Remove the casserole from the oven, turning the chicken pieces, then place back in the oven for a further 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, leave to rest for 10 mins, then serve from the dish with salad.