In the early days of my marriage, a.k.a., my “cooking career,” I was fascinated with French food. It seemed so glamorous.
A good friend of ours considered herself a Francophile and taught me a lot about French cooking, from beef Bourguignon (beef stew braised in red wine), coquille Saint Jacques (baby scallops in a rich cream sauce), chateaubriand (beef tenderloin in a red wine sauce), and salad Niçoise (a classic bistro salad with tuna, potatoes, green beans and tomatoes). I even bought a crepe maker!
One evening, this same friend took us to a little French restaurant in Washington, D.C. The menu was written completely in French, and she delighted in helping us translate what each offering actually was.
For her own meal, she confirmed with the waiter that she was ordering “braised veal.” I have no memory of what the rest of us at the table ordered, but when her dinner came, it was a lovely dish of veal brains! Her husband insisted that he could make out the medulla oblongata. In any case, the story provided us with many laughs for many years.
There aren’t many French restaurants around these days, at least not in Harrisburg. (Does anyone out there remember A Jour la Jour, the wonderful little French bistro in Shipoke?) But every once in a while, I love to re-visit the 1970s and make a French-inspired dish.
The recipe that follows is one I found recently hiding in an old cookbook I was leafing through. It is for chicken Provençal, made with lots of herbes de Provence, an herb blend made popular by the famous French chef, Julia Child. It is a classic mixture of thyme, basil, rosemary, tarragon, savory, marjoram and bay leaf. I was able to find it at the West Shore Farmers Market’s newest addition, the gourmet food stand, Thyme. Spice Islands and McCormick make versions of this herb mixture, too.
I found this dish so easy to make despite a trip to the state store for some extra white vermouth. It is perfect for spring and nice enough for company.
A little note: some herbalists include crushed lavender in their herbes de Provence blend. It lends a distinctive floral aroma to the mixture that really can’t be duplicated by any other herb.
Roasted Chicken Provençal
- 4 whole chicken legs, or 8 bone-in chicken thighs (skin on)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ to ¾ cup flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons herbes de Provence
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4-6 medium shallots, peeled and halved
- 1/3 cup dry vermouth
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, for serving (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.
- Spread the olive oil in a large roasting pan and place the floured chicken in it. Season the chicken with the herbes de Provence.
- Arrange the lemon quarters, garlic cloves and shallots around the chicken and pour the vermouth into the pan.
- Roast in the oven for about an hour, basting frequently with the pan juices. The chicken should be browned and cooked all the way through. Roast a little longer if needed.
- Serve on a pretty platter garnished with fresh thyme sprigs.
All that is needed to complete the meal is a simple green salad and perhaps some rice. But some French bread works beautifully, too. There will be a lot of pan juices to mop up.
I will continue to dabble in French cooking from time to time. It is a wonderful cuisine, although Italian cooking remains closest to my heart. I can’t find my crepe maker, and I think I will likely never make another souffle again. But chicken Provençal is a great place to start. I hope you try it.
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