I have fond memories of our vacations in the South of France. How can you not completely lose yourself amidst the sights & smells of beautiful Provençe? The fragrant purple-glowing lavender fields, knotty olive trees, the distant sound of church bells echoing over the citrus groves, the sweet honey-like smell of juicy figs, freshly baked crusty French bread wafting through the warm air, old cobble stone streets that are host to bustling markets selling anything from creamy local goat cheese to bright colorful Provençal textiles, and the prerequisite dusty bocce ball courts that are strategically placed underneath the shady oaks in the old town square, where the older beret-wearing men mingle and discuss politics over a friendly game of ‘pétanque’ or ‘jeux de boules’, while their wives haggle with the chatty vendors over fresh fish and cured olives…
Provençe is where the good life is at… It seems time has come to a standstill in the sleepy cobblestone towns, with their red clay rooftops spread out against a backdrop of olive groves and lavender fields, and their historic architecture splayed over the hillsides. These are the kind of rural hamlets where senior villagers frequently lounge in comfortable chairs right outside the doorstep of their old stone houses, to catch up on local gossip and to gawk amusedly at the occasional accidental tourist that stumbles into town. I suppose the younger generation flees towards the excitement & lure of the larger cities as soon as they have the chance, and who can blame them? With nothing more than an old mossy church, a few cafés or bistros and a handful of ‘odds & ends’ type stores the size of shoebox, there’s hardly anything present to engage or capture the essence of youth in these old havens of peaceful nothingness.
It’s precisely here, in this type of quiet solitude, that you find that unforgettable meal in your trip that will fondly linger in your memory for years to come. A dish that is sourced from the best quality local ingredients only, purveyed fresh from the field that same hazy morning, and infused with generations of love & passion for authentic regional cuisine. The recipe below hails from such a charming town in Provençe, and as such, its flavor and smell will transport you directly to ‘Banon’, to name just one Provençal pearl…
CHICKEN WITH LEMON, BLACK OLIVES & SAFFRON
– 4 whole chicken legs or 6-8 thighs, skin on
– 4 fresh lemons
– 3 large onions, roughly the size of a small orange
– Approx. 20 oil-cured black olives (the Greek kind, with a deep dark black color and slightly wrinkled skin)
– a hefty pinch of saffron
– 1 cup of chicken stock
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– Salt & pepper, to taste
Chop onion in half, and then each half cross-wise in half again, slice each onion quarter in small rings. Juice 2 of the lemons and reserve both juice and peels. Quarter 3 lemons (including the juiced ones), and then slice each lemon wedge cross-wise in half again. Slice 1 lemon in pretty round slices, for visual appeal… Wash chicken legs and pat dry, then salt & pepper them liberally.
In a large Dutch oven, sauté the onions in a splash of olive oil until translucent and slightly browned. Add chicken legs skin side down and brown to a crisp. Add reserved lemon juice, all lemon wedges & slices, garlic, olives, chicken stock & saffron, and braise covered over low heat for approx. 60 min, until chicken is “fall-off-the-bone” tender and flavors have developed.
Serve with crusty French bread to sop up the delicious lemony sauce and a crisp, cold Pinot Gris.