Sunday, January 23, 2011

Great Southern French Chicken!


My son, his wife, and my two adorable little grand-daughters live in Massachusetts. It’s a long way from Memphis, but I go as often as I can to see them. One of our traditions is that on the Saturday evening I’m there, I cook for a group of their friends and my daughter-in-law’s family. The number varies, but it rarely is fewer than 20 or so.

A while back, I did it again. The trick to this is finding something that will live up to my reputation, without breaking either the bank or my back!

A "daube" is a French sort of stew: beef braised in red wine with vegetables and herbs. The exact ingredients vary from region to region, but my favorite is the Provençal version, which includes orange zest and juice as part of the aromatic seasonings.

Beef can be pretty expensive, but why not chicken? For any dish that simmers in a highly flavored sauce, I like to use bone-in chicken thighs. The bones add flavor, and the dark meat can be braised long enough to absorb lots of flavor without drying out. I leave the skin on as well. It, too, adds flavor, and can easily be removed at the table by those who prefer skinless poultry.

I tried this first on a small group of neighbors, with rice pilaf and roasted asparagus. A slice of orange added a bit of color and zest to the plate. For the Massachusetts group, which numbered 27, I did it with egg noodles and fresh haricots verts (really skinny green beans), blanched and tossed in garlic butter. Both were served with a green salad for a meal that was simple, very economical and quite tasty.

There were a couple of thighs left over, with some of the sauce. The next day I pulled the meat off the bones, put it into a pan with the sauce, a couple of cups of chicken stock and a bag of frozen Italian vegetables I found in their freezer. Simmered for a bit, it made a really good soup.

If your family insists on white meat, you can use breasts. Then, simmer them on top of the stove for only about 10 minutes after adding the wine and tomatoes, rather than oven braising. It will still be good, but you might need to remove them when they’re done and reduce the sauce a bit. Be careful not to overcook. Either way, I am sure your family and friends will love this as much as mine did!

Provençal Daube of Chicken

6 large chicken thighs, bone in, skin on (about 3 lb)
½ cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 tsp dried), chopped
½ cup dry red wine
1 can (16 oz) diced tomatoes, with juices
1 navel orange

Preheat the oven to 350o. Rinse and dry the chicken. In a flat bowl, mix the flour, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken very well on the skin side, then turn and brown on the underside. As they brown, remove them to a baking dish just large enough to hold all the pieces in one layer.

Reduce the heat under the skillet to medium. Add the butter. Cook the onion and garlic until soft, but not at all browned. Add the rosemary, wine and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, scraping up any of browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Pour over the chicken in the baking dish. Bake covered for ½ hour.

Finely grate the zest from the orange, then squeeze out all the juice. Uncover the baking dish and stir in the orange zest and juice. Continue to bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if needed. Serves 6.
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