Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fabulous Roast Chicken with Apologies to Sam Sifton

I don't know if this is true of other cooks, but I can't seem to follow a recipe to save my life. Even though I consider myself a recipe-dependent cook rather than one of those people who, like my friend Denise, freestyles her way through ingredients, following her intuition to come up with creative, fabulous meals.

This entire blog is a testament to my need for guidance, chock-full as it is of favorite recipes gleaned from family dinners and camping trips, or—ssssshhhh…don't tell!—stolen from friends. So the other day when I was browsing through the New York Times magazine and saw a gorgeous photo of a dish of roasted chicken legs, I had to stop and check out the recipe.

The article, by the Times' food editor, Sam Sifton, whose writing I find pretty irresistible, clever without being one of those "Look at me! Look at me! I can do a double flip!" food writers, was an interview with the designer Steven Stolman. He'd first had the dish, called Roasted Chicken Provençal, as a college student in New York.

Sifton wrote, "the chicken was seasoned with spices meant to evoke the flavors of southern France: rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, lavender, marjoram, chervil, sage. It all seemed exotic and wonderful to Stolman, a child of the Hartford suburbs and new to Manhattan. 'I thought it was the coolest thing,' [Stolman] said. The dish and the evening left an impression on him that has lasted for almost 40 years."

A couple of paragraphs later Sifton wrote, "it is still the coolest thing: chicken dusted in flour and roasted with shallots and lemons and vermouth under a shower of herbes de Provence until it has gone crisp above the fat and wine and lemon juice, and the shallots are melted and sweet."

It's a dead simple recipe, and with my crazy love of roasted chicken it seemed like a natural for a test run. And that's where I went ever-so-slightly off the rails. You see, I had almost everything the recipe called for…except shallots. Hm. While it sounds like they're pretty crucial to getting the dish just right, I've also cooked enough chicken to know that shallots aren't a make-or-break ingredient.

So I decided to throw in a few extra garlic cloves and call it good. Then I saw a half-full basket of cherry tomatoes left over from a vinaigrette I'd made a couple of days before sitting on the counter. Those'd be good, too, and still keep it in the Provençal theme. Pulling the chicken out of the fridge my eyes fell on a dozen or so leftover oil-cured olives. They're Mediterranean, too, right?

Except for those "tweaks," if you can call it that, I pretty much made the chicken as originally intended and it was indeed as wonderful as advertised. Like Stolman, I'll definitely make it again and probably serve it to company. Maybe I'll even follow the recipe.

Roasted Chicken Provençal (Kind Of)

4 chicken legs or 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. herbes de Provence
1 lemon, quartered
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 dozen or so oil-cured olives, pitted and halved
1/3 c. dry vermouth

Preheat oven to 400. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow pan, and lightly dredge the chicken in it, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.

Swirl the oil in a 9” by 12” pyrex roasting dish, and place the floured chicken in it skin-side up. Season the chicken with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemons, garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes and olives around the chicken, and then add the vermouth to the pan.

Put the pan in the oven, and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, then baste it with the pan juices. Continue roasting for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is very crisp and the meat cooked through.

Serve in the pan or on a warmed platter.

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