like most of you who come here, i cook often. cooking is a joy in my life and i’m probably at my most centered and peaceful when i’m in my kitchen. but just the other night when faced with an upcoming gathering at my house, i got a bit anxiety ridden. and you might wonder why… i mean i am a seasoned pro at feeding people and these were some of my closest friends.
well, here was the list of the dietary restrictions… no pork. no lamb or beef. nothing spicy, no eggplant, bell peppers or cauliflower. no squash, mushrooms or green olives. no sugar, eggs, dairy, wheat or gluten of any kind. and no yeast. which is in seemingly everything.
dear readers, i am not kidding here… and we were only 8 people.
so i decided we would have chicken. it felt safe. but still, this culinary task was a bit too daunting for the likes of me and i could come up with nothing. so i did what many a cook has done for three generations – i turned to julia child. and as you might expect, she had just the perfect dish for us. a sauté!
one of my favorite cookbooks of all time is ‘the way to cook’. i love how julia starts with a basic recipe and then builds on it, giving you options of where to go from there. so from her sautéed chicken she went to pipérade chicken (but peppers were a no, remember?) and then i came upon our dinner. chicken provençale. a perfectly glorious idea, julia. thank you.
it’s simple cooking. and it’s one of those dishes that i had forgotten about. provençale anything and all you need is some olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, olives and herbs de provence. i added sautéed onion and fresh basil, just because…
i bought 2 chickens and cut them into legs, thighs and breasts putting the scraps and wings in a ziplock and in my freezer for future stock. i heated my biggest cast iron pan and added some olive oil, browning the chicken on all sides. do this in batches so as not to crowd the pan.
WARNING: chickens are spiteful creatures that spit burning hot fat at you, aiming directly for your face. i got hit in 3 places and i have actual blisters to prove it. on my face. lovely. and you cannot sue a chicken. but you know this.
anyway, once the meat is browned, salt and pepper – interestingly, julia specifically does this after it is cooked – remove the meat from the pan and drain off as much oil and fat as you can, saving the juices. stir in a can of crushed san marzano’s (julia uses her own fresh tomato pulp – of course), add a generous amount of herbs de provence and some garlic. i pureed about 6 garlic cloves and added that to the pan. boil for several minutes to thicken the sauce, correct seasonings and add about 1/2 cup of dry white french vermouth. add the chicken back and simmer until it is cooked through. i served it with chopped kalamata olives and fresh basil with a side of simply roasted yukon potatoes, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper.
it was delicious. i mean, this was a really good dish and a crowd pleaser amongst a hard to feed crowd. chicken provençale is beautiful food. it’s julia getting all rustic on us. it’s my kind of julia – french all the way, but with an italian edge.
the best line of the night was when my dear friend michael johnson and i were talking about food and cooking. michael was not the problem child at this dinner, his only food aversion being eggplant… so i asked him what else was on his ‘list’ and he said that he would pretty much eat anything. so then i got specific. would you eat tongue? and he replied yes. i asked, would you eat liver? and he answered, of course. and then i hit him with tripe. and he thought for 3 seconds and looked at me and said, well, maybe not as an entree…
a perfect answer.