Poulet au pastis

provencal chicken 3

Provençal chicken with garlic and pastis

This aromatic chicken dish combines all the best flavors of southern France — tomatoes, finocchio, onions, garlic and thyme. It is served in shallow soup bowls with a dollop of rouille, a spicy, garlicky saffron mayonnaise.

Leave yourself plenty of time. The dish is best when made over two days to allow the chicken to marinate overnight. If you’re in a hurry you can do it all in a couple of hours, but beware — it’s a bit more labor-intensive than most everyday French dishes.

For easy preparation, have the butcher chop the chicken into manageable pieces — or just use chicken legs and thighs, and separate them yourself. Make the rouille in advance, so it’s ready to go when you take the chicken to the table.

I owe this recipe to Patricia Wells, who includes a slightly different version, ‘Bouillabaisse de Poulet’, in her wonderful book Bistro Cooking.

1 free-range chicken, cut into 8-10 pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pastis
large pinch of powdered saffron (1 gram)
3 cloves garlic
4 cups homemade chicken broth
4 tomatoes
2 medium onions
2 bulbs finocchio
1 tsp. fresh or dried thyme leaves

1 bay leaf
1 small dried cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper

4 potatoes
1/2 cup rouille

Start by placing the chicken pieces in large stewing pot. Add the olive oil, pastis and saffron, and stir well to cover all the pieces with the sauce. Peel the garlic pieces and put them through a garlic press directly into the pot. Stir again. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

If you don’t have chicken broth on hand, make it while the chicken is marinating. Set aside.

When ready to cook the chicken, put the broth over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Get the chicken out of the fridge. Wash the tomatoes, cut them into large cubes and add them to the stewing pot. Chop the finocchio and add it. Peel and cube the onions and add them. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Crumble in the cayenne pepper — crush it in a paper towel to protect your hands. Add the salt and pepper. Stir well. Add the hot broth.

Place the stewing pot over a medium flame and bring to a simmer.

While it is heating up, peel the potatoes, place them in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil and allow them to cook for 10 minutes. Drain. Slice into rounds about 1/3 inch (1.5 cm) thick. The potatoes will finish cooking in the stew.

From the moment the chicken starts simmering, let it cook for 20 minutes. Then add the sliced potatoes, stir and simmer for 20 minutes more.

Turn off the heat, allow the stew to cool a bit, then skim the fat off the surface and discard.

Reheat gently. Serve in shallow bowls with rouille on the side. Serves 4-6.

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