Poulet au pistou

Chicken with pistou

In this unusual recipe, French pesto sauce — pistou — is inserted between the skin and the flesh of whole chicken legs to create a succulent and highly flavorful dish. Prepartion is quick, easy and fun. You can have the meal on the table in less than an hour.

If you like, you can add small tomato halves, a sliced shallot and unpeeled garlic cloves to the baking pan. This makes a nice garnish for the chicken — which can also be cooked on its own if you have a different garnish in mind. By the way, the garlic becomes dreamily creamy inside its peel to slightly sinful effect…

For best results, start with free-range or organic whole chicken legs and a leafy bunch of fresh basil. You will also need olive oil and a small chunk of fresh parmesan, as well as the optional small tomatoes, shallot and unpeeled garlic cloves if you so desire.

The quantities below will serve two people.

2 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick attached)
1 bunch fresh basil
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tbsp. freshly grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper

optional ingredients:
2-3 small tomatoes
1 shallot
4-6 unpeeled garlic cloves

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (400 F, 210 C).

Trim the chicken legs of any extraneous fat. Place on a board.

Make the pistou. Strip the basil leaves from the stem. They should make about one cup when pressed into a measuring cup (but not crushed). Not to stress about the quantity — it’s not an exact science. Transfer the leaves to a blender. Add the peeled garlic clove chopped into a few pieces. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and the parmesan. Add a pinch of salt and grind in some black pepper. Blend until smooth.

To insert the sauce beneath the skin of the chicken, go in under the skin at the top of the thigh — fingers work best for this — and gently lift it to the other edge. Then do the same with the skin over the drumstick. Once you’ve created a pocket, slip 1 tsp. of the pistou under the skin of the drumstick and 2 tsp. pistou under the skin of the thigh. Pat the skin back into its original shape.

Oil a baking pan with about half of the remaining olive oil. Transfer the chicken to the pan.

If using the optional veggies, cut the tomatoes in half and distribute around the chicken. Peel the shallot, slice and add. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves. Drizzle the ingredients in the baking pan with the remaining olive oil.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the skin of the chicken is golden brown. To check for doneness, insert a knife into one thigh — but be careful not to puncture skin that is directly over the sauce. If the juice runs clear, the chicken is done. If it runs pink, the chicken needs to cook for five minutes more.

When the chicken comes out of the oven, sprinkle with salt and grind on some black pepper. Serve piping hot, drizzled with the pan juices, along with the optional veggies for garnish and any other veggies you may desire. Serves 2.

Please note: If you like, you can drizzle the remaining pistou over the veggies. Otherwise, the pistou will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, well covered or in a small jar.

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