Provence style chicken (poulet à la provençale)

The region of Provence is a historical area of the South-east of France that extends from the city of Avignon to the Italian border. It is also where my father’s family is from. Dad was born in Salon-de-Provence from a Corsican father and a French-Italian mother and he grew up between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. As a kid, I spent most of my summers there and will never forget the smells of Provence. The sun, the holidays, the sea, the swimming pool and the fun we had, yes, but mostly the smells.

You see, Provence has a very typical and recognisable landscape: the “garrigue” – pronounced [gah-REEG]. It is a landscape of low and rather dry bushes that grow in the limestone soils around the Mediterranean basin. In this landscape, and thanks to a moderate climate, grow the most amazing and fragrant herbs, trees and flowers: lavender, sage, rosemary, wild thyme, etc. Walking through the garrigue is literally like taking a stroll through a bouquet garni! When we were little and on holiday with our grand-mother, to wash our hands she would make us rub fresh sprigs of lavender and rosemary in our palms under a tap of running cold water. And still nowadays, when she drives around the countryside, she always has a basket and a pair of scissors in the car boot in case she spots fennel plants that will be perfect to accompany a fish dish!

Chicken “à la provençale” is a dish that brings together all that Provence has to offer: sun ripened tomatoes and peppers, fragrant rosemary, wild thyme, spicy “piment d’espelette”… Every time I cook it, I feel like I’m on a holiday in the sun. It is also incredibly quick and easy and therefore perfect for a mid-week quick fix!

Chicken provencale4

For 4 people.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 big chicken breasts
  • 3 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 25 cl of creme fraiche
  • 1 (chicken) stock cube
  • butter
  • 2 shallots
  • fresh rosemary and whild thyme
  • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 1 pinch of espelette chili
  • salt and pepper to taste

METHOD

  • Season your chicken breasts on both sides with salt, pepper and paprika and cut into 1cm 1/2 cubes.
  • Melt butter in a heavy-bottom pan or skillet and cook your chicken until golden.
  • Then add in the tomatoes and peppers cut into big chunks, the thinly sliced shallots, the espelette and a stock cube, crumbled.
  • Cover with 1 litre of water, and drop 1 branch of rosemary and 1 branch of thyme (whole) on top of the preparation. Turn the hob to a low flame and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, take the chicken out of the sauce and keep warm.
  • Discard the rosemary and thyme branches; then add the creme fraiche to the sauce.
  • Bring to a boil until the sauce has reached a silky consistency.
  • Put the chicken back in and simmer for an extra 2-3 minutes.

Serve with white rice or – highly recommended! – fresh tagliatelles. And please no parmesan, we’re in French Provence, not in Italy 😉

Chicken provencale2

Spicy paste for chicken dishes

Chicken can be a little bit bland depending on how you cook it. So here’s an ingenious spice paste that you can easily rub you chicken with before roasting, BBQing or (like I did last weekend) slow cooking in a tagine dish.

Mashing garlic with coarse salt

Mashing garlic with coarse salt

Blending in hot smoked paprika and curcuma powder

Blending in hot smoked paprika and curcuma powder

You need:

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Coarse salt
  • Hot paprika powder
  • Curcuma powder
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • Olive oil

In a pestle and mortar, mash the peeled garlic cloves with a pinch of coarse salt. We add salt here for two reasons: 1 – to help release the liquids in the garlic and 2- to create a texture that is easier to mash thanks to the resistance of the salt crystals.

When you have a smooth garlic paste add a spoonful of hot paprika powder and a spoonful of  curcuma powder and mash together until all blended, adding a little bit of olive oil if the mix is too dry and sticky. Add the peppercorns and mash until all ground in and you have a smooth mixture.

You can then adjust the amount of paste and its texture to taste with olive oil, making sure you mix everything together well and the paste doesn’t split.

Gently rub that spicy paste into your raw chicken to give a delicious twist to any cut of chicken.

What I most like about this, is its versatility: you can use it to massage chicken meat before slow cooking  the Moroccan-way in a tagine dish with slices of lemon and tinned tomatoes; you can rub it on chicken skin before grilling to create the tastiest spicy crispy skin; you can use it as a simple marinade; etc. 1 recipe, many many possible uses!