A few years back I had an exceptional opportunity to be resident chef of a country chateau in the south of France which was situated amidst a sprawling “working” vineyard surrounded by a vast forest and hunting preserve. I worked there for only a summer but it was, as you might imagine, an experience of a lifetime. The work was demanding, but the opportunity to live in the French countryside, immerse myself in the culture, and meet fascinating people was worth every challenge.
Every Saturday morning the guests who had occupied the 16 room multi-story chateau the previous week would bid “adieu” and my preparation for the new guests would immediately begin. After saying “good-bye, I was off speeding down winding country roads to get to the weekend farmer’s market to seek out the best local and fresh cheeses, ripe summer fruit and vegetables and a local organic plump chicken or two to roast that night. With no time to waste I sped back to the chateau to return in time to clean and re-stock the kitchen and begin dinner prep for the first evening’s meal for my new guests. It had to be simple to prepare, delicious and obviously make a good first impression. And so without hesitation I always served lovely roasted chicken – golden brown, juicy, and nourishing—a perfect dish to satisfy travel weary guests.
While I multi-tasked and prepped simple side dishes for the evening I always brined my chickens in a solution of salted water scented with popular Provencal aromatics–fresh rosemary and large cloves of garlic. Brine takes less than ten minutes to whip together and the chicken is immersed in it for about an hour. It’s an easy and very reliable way to ensure moist and succulent roast chicken every time!
After removing the chicken from the brine I massaged the skin with some rich and grassy olive oil mixed into a paste of very finely minced fresh rosemary and garlic (and sometimes a little wild thyme which grew outside my chateau kitchen) which I also tucked under the breast skin. A V-shaped wire rack elevated the chicken within a large rectangular roasting pan so it sat above the drippings while roasting.
Once the chicken was in the hot oven and after 20 minutes of roasting I’d add a couple big handfuls of baby potatoes slathered with the same Provencale herbs, a little grey salt from the Carmargue and more of that luscious local olive oil. The potatoes rested on the bottom of the hot roasting pan, their skins turning crisp as they absorbed the moistness of hot juice and drippings. It wasn’t much more than a half hour later that the chicken had turned to a perfectly rich golden brown, its juices were running clear and the potatoes were tender to the fork. Dinner was ready to be served.
Proudly, I announced, “ A la table!”… and paraded the platter adorned with golden chicken and potatoes accented with fresh sprigs of rosemary to the “oohs and ahhs” of the hungry guests who had gathered to dine, toast their beautiful surroundings and good fortune while inhaling the captivating fragrances and flavors of Provence.
Brined and Roasted Chicken a la Provencal
¾ cup Kosher salt
2 cups hot water
2 quarts cold water plus 2 cups of ice
1 ½ large heads of garlic, broken into cloves
2-4 large rosemary sprigs
1 whole organic chicken (3 to 4 lbs.), patted dry (gizzards removed)
Equipment: One 8 quart container (small cooler or large stockpot will work well) to hold brine and submerged chicken; large roasting pan with a wire V-rack to hold chicken.
Remove the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and roughly chop them. Set a generous tablespoon of the chopped rosemary aside along with 3 or 4 cloves of garlic to use for a rub for the chicken. Smash the remaining garlic cloves with the side of a chef’s knife to crush them. Place the remaining chopped rosemary and garlic in the large 8 quart container.
Place the salt and 2 cups of hot water in a medium sized saucepan on high heat. When the mixture begins to simmer remove from heat, and stir until the salt has dissolved. Pour the warm salt mixture over the garlic and rosemary in the large container and let the mixture sit for about 12 minutes.
Add 2 ½ quarts of cold water and ice to the large container with the salt and herb mixture and stir well. Add the chicken to the brine and submerge it (Place a plate on it if it does not stay submerged.) Allow the chicken to sit in the cold brine for 1 hour.
Meanwhile take the remaining cloves of garlic and the tablespoon of rosemary and mince finely into a paste. Place in a small bowl and add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. Mix well and set aside.
Preheat oven to 425 Degrees F. Remove chicken from the brine, rinse with tap water and pat dry with paper towels.
Gently loosen the breast skin of the chicken and take a portion of the paste and push it under the skin with your fingers spreading it as evenly as possible. Take the remaining paste and massage it over the surface of the chicken—particularly the breast and thigh area.
Place the chicken on a V-rack in the roasting pan and place in the pre-heated oven. Roast for 20 minutes at 425° then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Place the prepared baby potatoes and garlic in the bottom of the roasting pan. Continue to roast the chicken with potatoes for another 40-45 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear (pierce meaty portion of the thigh with a fork and hold a spoon underneath to catch the juices. They should not look pink). Potatoes should be fork tender. When done remove from the oven and transfer the chicken and potatoes with roasted whole garlic cloves to a warmed platter. Spoon pan juices over potatoes. Garnish platter with sprigs of fresh rosemary and serve immediately.
1 ½ – 2 lbs small baby Yukon Gold or Fingerling potatoes, trimmed and cleaned
1/3 cup olive oil
6-8 large garlic cloves
Kosher salt (or grey salt from France)
Place cleaned potatoes in a large bowl. Add whole cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Mix well. Spread potatoes and garlic over the bottom of a roasting pan and roast in a hot oven 350°F for about a half hour or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.
*Recipe adapted from “Garlic-Rosemary Roast Chicken,” Cook’s Illustrated, No. 66, February 2004