Thursday, November 19, 2009

Braised Chicken, Provençal-Style

I do not consider myself a ravenous carnivore.  Besides the infrequent cheeseburger, I don’t really eat red meat.  Unlike a lot of people, USDA Prime steak doesn’t make me swoon.  I get bored after a bite or two.  However, chicken on the bone is one delicacy I cannot part with.  I just love it.  In fact, as tactless as it may be, on Thanksgiving, carve the bird and give me what remains; I will involuntarily hum as I eat out of sheer happiness.  This gem of a recipe is perfect for chicken on the bone.  Make adjustments as necessary; besides potentially dry white meat, it will come out fine.  Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are actually quite nice, although they sacrifice aesthetic appeal.  But, please, keep modifications to yourself, and spare me the heartache.  I inherited my poultry-bone-picking genes from not one, but two grandmothers, and my love runs deep.  Aside from the chicken controversy, this dish is pretty straightforward: tomatoes, olives, garlic.  It’s a classic combination for a reason, and that reason is that it’s utterly delicious.

1 ½ to 2 pounds of chicken pieces (I used thighs and drumsticks, skin removed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1-14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
½ cup chicken stock, white or red wine, or water
½ to ¾ cup good quality olives, coarsely chopped (I used Kalamata olives* and Greek green olives)
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

§  In a large deep skillet, preheat olive oil over medium-high to high heat until very hot (about 3 minutes).  Add chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper, and allow to brown, about 5 minutes per side.  Remove from pan and set aside; reduce heat to medium.
§  Drain all but about a tablespoon or so of oil from the pan.  Add onion and anchovy paste (if using) and some pepper and salt if you are not using the anchovies.  Sauté until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. 
§  Add garlic, dried herbs, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, and salt/pepper (easy on the salt: olives and anchovy paste are salty).
§  Allow mixture to simmer (increase heat if necessary) for a couple of minutes and add stock. 
§  Bring it back to a simmer and return chicken to the pan. 
§  Cover the pan, and allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Turn chicken every 5 minutes or so.  Scatter olives across the chicken and cover the pan to allow the olives to heat through, while the rest of meal is finished.  Garnish with parsley.  (If you want a more traditional preparation, add olives to tomato mixture before the chicken is returned to the pan.  I personally don’t like gratuitous cooking of olives.)

§  Serve with soft polenta (I added Parmesan and parsley to mine.  See my post on grits for details) and zucchini sautéed in live oil with garlic.  Couscous, rice, crusty bread, or extra vegetables are all appropriate accompaniments (add some eggplant to your zucchini and you will be oh-so-Provençal).

Comments:  The quality of the olives is paramount.  Go to Whole Foods, or another quality market, and indulge in the olive bar.  It will be priced at $7.99-9.99 per pound, which sounds like a lot, but a third of a pound of olives goes a long way.  I like to think of it as an affordable luxury.  Also, olives with pits will always taste better than those already pitted.  Just whack them with the side of your knife, like you would a garlic clove.  The firmness of the olive will dictate how hard you need to hit it.  Generally, black olives take a lot less force than green.  Like I said above, traditionally the olives should be cooked with the chicken, but I really don’t like that, especially with black olives, which get too soft.  However, each cook has to make his/her own judgment.  I did remove the chicken skin to avoid the temptation.  It obviously won’t get crispy in a dish like this, so I might as well spare my arteries.  Because if it’s there, crispy or not, I will eat it. 

This dish makes great leftovers.  I store the chicken, sauce, and polenta separately because it gives you more options.  For example, when you walk into your apartment starving, you can grab a drumstick and eat standing in front of the refrigerator.  But that is purely hypothetical.  Also, you can fry up the extra polenta and serve it with eggs or vegetables (again, see my most on grits for details).  If you’re tired or lacking creativity, you can recreate the whole meal by piling up the three components in a bowl; give it a quick spin in the microwave, and dinner is served.

*See glossary for details

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