This winter seems to be much more intense than last year. The recent blizzards in the North East and the down-pouring heavy rains here on the West Coast have been challenging for many people. Although getting my car effortlessly washed by the rain is a plus, I feel colder than my memory of last winter. I miss the Sun. As I stand in my kitchen, I am dreaming of the Mediterranean’s warm sunshine.
This week I’m cooking a Provençal dish from the sunny South of France. Best known for its delicious olive oil, citrus, and herbs (e.g., thyme, sage, funnel, marjoram, savory, etc.), many dishes in Provence are prepared with sumptuous olive oil, herbs and garlic. When I was on my way to meet two French ladies for lunch there, I saw some rotisserie chickens slowly being roasted on a rack. The irresistible aromas of the Provençal herbs and the sight of the succulent golden-brown chicken dripping juice all over the rack made me stop to stare. My mouth started getting watery. I figured buying a quarter of a chicken to taste it after lunch wouldn’t hurt. While walking down to the restaurant, I opened up the bag to taste a piece of the chicken. It was fantastic. By the time I arrived at the restaurant, my bag was completely empty. I couldn’t stop eating that amazingly flavorful, tender chicken.
To replicate that wonderful flavor, I first soak a 5 lb young chicken in 1 gallon of water mixed with 1 cup of sea salt, 1 cup of brown sugar and the juice from 1 lemon for 5 hours. Then, I pat dry the chicken with a paper towel. Separately, I mix 4 Tablespoons olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon, 4 minced garlic cloves, 2 Tablespoons of herb de Provence and 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Then, I rub the chicken inside and out with the mixture and bake it at 250F for 6 hours.
For the six hours the chicken was cooking, my whole kitchen was filled with the intoxicating aromas, just like the Provençal market. The chicken came out so incredibly tender that it was falling off the bones and was melting away in my mouth. It was even difficult to cut because the pieces just kept falling off at the touch of my sharpest knife. This rotisserie chicken was truly as marvelous as what I had in Provence! I can’t wait for my friends to taste it.
Since the French often drink local rosé wines with their Provençal cuisine, I’m pairing the chicken with a 2009 Domaine de Terrebrune Rosé from Bandol, a seaside town located near Marseille. It’s a blend of 50% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache & 25% Cinsault grapes. This rosé has vibrant cherry and berry flavors with notes of lemon peel and spices. It brings out the subtle citrusy tone of the chicken and nicely compliments herb de Provence, especially the licorice flavor of the fennel.
Wineries I visited in Provence were as interesting as its cuisine. I noticed that many of the family-owned vineyards had been divided up between different family members. Even if the vineyard sign has the same “domaine” name, I was still referred from one family member’s land to another’s to get to taste some of the wines. The French family, who hosted me, was nice enough to show me around their winery/house. I even got to see their centuries old solar clock. Getting served by a 10-year-old girl in their tasting room, however, was a surprise. In the US, tasting and buying wines from a minor is unthinkable, but in France, wine is treated like part of meals, hence, “no big deal”. Culturally, the role of wine appeared to be quite casual and unpretentious there. I really loved that about Provence!
I hope everyone stays warm in the cold weather and enjoy this recipe and wine from the Sun-drenched South of France. Cheers to a happy and prosperous New Year of 2011!