Saturday, August 16, 2008

"The Provence Cookbook" by Patricia Wells - Roast Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs

Date I made this recipe: August 10, 2008

The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-050782-9 © 2004

Recipe: Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs – p. 106-107

I recently finished reading Patricia Wells’ newest book, We’ll Always Have Paris…and Provence and was inspired to bring out her last book, purchased at a book signing event a few years ago, The Provence Cookbook. (PS—she is very nice in person - tres sympathique!)

I’ve been to Provence twice in my lifetime, both times to visit a French friend who lives in the area, and really enjoyed exploring the small towns in the area.

The first time I went was with my friend, Susan, in 1988, just before my 30th birthday. Susan used to live in Paris as an Au Pair and was fluent in Parisian French but speaking French in Provence is the equivalent of a northerner trying to “translate” a southern accent in the U.S. It took a while to get the nuances. (If I haven’t mentioned it in a previous blog, the trip was the equivalent of Lucy and Ethel Go To Paris as we had one hilarious mishap after another).

As for me, I spoke some French and did pretty well in Paris but was a fish out of water when we got to Provence. I will never forget one of the first nights there. My French friend and a few others took us to a health club where we used the steam room (sure, it’s an odd thing to do on vacation, but what’s your point?) and I was in tears within minutes because I didn’t understand a single word that was spoken. As a result, I got the reputation for being quiet, a fact that cracked Susan up to no end as I’m really pretty chatty—some might say a real conversationalist! Not only that, but I felt so stupid I can’t even tell you. I ended up answering “Oui” (“Yes”) for things that required a “No” answer and vice versa. It really brings home how frustrating it is to not be able to converse in or even understand another language.

Patricia Wells understands that and when, in her new book, she relayed how lonely she was the first few months she and her husband lived in Paris, I could completely relate. Lucky for me, I finally got the hang of the dialect, such that by the time we got back to Paris, I was ordering wine with a Provencal accent without realizing it. Everybody at the table laughed but I have to confess to being momentarily confused (“What did I say? What did I say?”).

Lucky for us, her recipes aren’t at all confusing and are as comforting as all get out. I really wouldn’t care if I was all by myself in a foreign city if I had myself a plate of this stuffed chicken!

Now, the use of rice and figs to stuff a chicken is as foreign to me as the dialect in Provence and it was good but I can’t say this was a home run hit. The chicken itself was fabulous—all moist with a beautifully browned skin and the rice and the figs were fine. Sad to say, it was the onions that made this recipe miss the mark. If I were you, I would caramelize the onions instead of cooking them until soft and I would also cut them into smaller pieces instead of thinly sliced rings. I think a caramelized onion would be a better flavor fit for the other ingredients.

So Bon Appetite everyone and enjoy this small taste of Provence!

Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs – 4-6 servings

Equipment: A large skillet with a lid; a roasting pan just slightly larger than the chicken, fitted with a roasting rack; a fine-mesh sieve.

2 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
Sea salt to taste
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups cooked rice
10 small, fresh purple figs, stems trimmed, and quartered lengthwise
1 best-quality farm chicken (about 5 pounds) with giblets cleaned and chopped
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 T unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In the skillet, combine the onions, salt, and olive oil. Sweat—cook, covered, over low heat until soft but not browned—for about 3 minutes. (Note: that is way to short a cooking time. I went about 10 minutes and even then, the onions were still a little crisp.) Add the rice and figs, and stir to blend. Cook just to blend the flavors, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the giblets in the cavity. Stuff with the rice and fig mixture. Rub the skin of the chicken with butter. Season all over with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken on its side on the roasting rack. Pour about ½ cup of water into the bottom of the pan to help create a rich and pleasing sauce later on. Place in the center of the oven and roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken to the other side, and roast for 20 minutes more. Turn the chicken breast side p, and roast for 20 minutes more, for a total of 1 hour’s roasting time. By this time, the skin should be a deep golden color. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Turn the chicken breast side down, at an angle if at all possible, with its head down and tail in the air. This heightens the flavor by allowing the juices to flow down through the breast meat. (Note: I’ll leave the gymnastics to you!) Roast until the juices run clear when you pierce a thigh with a skewer, about 15 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to a platter, and place on an angle against the edge of an overturned plate, with its head down and tail in the air (Again with the gymnastics!). Cover loosely with foil. Turn off the oven and place the platter in the oven, with the door open. Let rest a minimum of 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes. The chicken will continue to cook during the resting time.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat, scraping up any bits that cling to the bottom. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping and stirring until the liquid is almost caramelized. Do not let it burn. Spoon off and discard any excess fat. Add several tablespoons cold water to deglaze (hot water will cloud the sauce). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, remove the rice and fig stuffing from the cavity of the chicken. Place it in a serving bowl. Carve the chicken into serving pieces and transfer to a warmed platter. Strain the sauce through the sieve and pour into a sauceboat. Serve immediately.

Author’s variation: While this recipe is ideal for the months when fresh figs are in season, a good winter variation is to replace the figs with a mixture of 4 tablespoons pine nuts and 4 tablespoons golden raisins that have been plumped in warm water for 10 minutes then drained.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a GREAT was very easy and extremely tastey!

I would make two reccomendations:

1. Next time I make this will be with less salt...maybe cut it in half.

2. put seasoning on the chicken BEFORE you rub it with butter...otherwise it makes for a very good sauce, but it doesn't stay on the chicken. (If you salt and pepper after the butter, the seasonings melt off with the butter).

Again, great recipe!