When you see a recipe that has the word Provençal, Provence, or Provencial, what it means is that the recipe comes from the Southeastern France region. Provence is beautifully situated near the Mediterranean in the South and the Italian border to the east. Some common food ingredients in the Provençal area include nicoise olives, tomatoes, pesto, Herbs de Provence, grapes, squash, eggplant, zucchini, onions, peaches, melons, and apricots. Some popular French foods include Bouillabaisse, Rice Pilafs, Risottos, Ratatouille, Soupe au Pistou. Garlic is often used in Provencal French recipes as well as olive oil, chickpeas, and a favorite of mine sardines!
As an aside, during the 15th and 16th century, France was heavily influenced by the culinary arts of Italy due in part to the marriage of Catherine of Medici from Florence and King Henry II of France. She brought her cooks, chefs, suitcases full of Italian recipes and introduced the French Court with the Italian Cuisine (in a nutshell). Whether Provence is tastefully situated near the Italian border or an arranged marriage took place, we are the beneficiaries of flavor, diversity, and technique.
My Chicken Pilaf recipe is an adaptation of Richard Olney’s Chicken Pilaf recipe, but the methods are still the same. From Julia Child Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “the standard method to cooking rice the French way: sauté rice in fat and onions, then cook in seasoned liquid. No matter the techniques of other traditions, this is the way the French do it. When sautéing the rice, one must sauté in butter, slowly for 2-3 minutes until it turns a milky color. This cooks the rice-flour coating and prevents the rice from becoming sticky.” Can’t you just hear her saying this? Now onto the recipe:
Provençal Chicken Pilaf Serves 4
6 chicken thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup long grain rice, rinsed and well-drained
1 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon of Saffron
Small pinch of Cayenne
Handful pitted Nicoise and or Mediterranean Olives
1 1/2 cups boiling water or stock
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut up
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
8 ounces mushrooms sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 small zucchini, sliced thinly
Use a large heavy-duty pot, copper or a Le Creuset or similar pot. Brown the thighs, salted in olive oil, remove them to a plate and replace them by the onion cooking over a low flame and stirring regularly until soft and lightly colored. Add the chopped garlic and the rice, stirring often with a wooden spoon until the rice turns a milky-opaque, sprinkle in the oregano, saffron, cayenne, scatter over the olives, pour in hot water, stock, broth or a combination and put back in the chicken thighs adding any juices that may have drained from them. Cover and cook over low heat, a bare murmur at the liquid’s surface (translation-very slowly), for 15 minutes.
Gently Stew the tomatoes, seasoned, sugar added, in the butter, stirring occasionally. Add them to the pilaf, stewing them regularly over the surface with their juices, without disturbing the rice.
Saute the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon butter for 5 minutes then add zucchini and sauté them for 2 or 3 minutes or until softened. Add to the top of the rice and chicken and let sit for another 10 minutes. Remove from Heat and let stand for 5 minutes or so before serving.
If you used water as your liquid be sure to adjust the salt season.