Monday, September 10, 2007
Thyme Roasted Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes with Panfried Tapenade
My aunt and uncle have lived in the Bahamas for longer than I can remember – a reasonably remote and unspoiled area at that – and my family often gathers there for holidays. I spent countless spring breaks there when I was young, I’ve watched my cousins’ children grow up on the powder-soft beaches, and my husband and I were married there almost 2 years ago. It’s pretty great.
This March, nine of us swarmed my enduringly welcoming aunt and uncle’s home to celebrate my father's birthday. We feasted and lolled about; we hopped around to neighboring islands; sipped rum; sauntered sandbars for shells; and then we feasted some more. It was blissful in the easy way family trips can be when they take place in an utterly familiar, time-honored, fairly deserted paradise, but it was also blissful because of the food.
It may come as no surprise that my family likes good food (what family en masse doesn’t, after all?), and I still remember most of the long, drawn-out evening meals we shared in surprising detail considering said rum. Freshly caught grouper on the grill, conch salad from Miss Vivien, and one night, my mother’s brother – a gourmet chef - made a sublime roast chicken. Not exactly island food I hear you say? Let me explain.
This chicken was roasted to golden perfection, as roast chickens tend to be, but instead of invoking the cozy comfort I associate with the dish, this was an exaltation of warm weather and earthy refreshment. My uncle’s chicken was served forth on a bed of coarse, pungent, panfried black olive tapenade. Provence was come to the Caribbean, and we licked the platter clean.
The salinity of the anchovies and capers and the richness of the oil-cured olives pairs with the sweetly aromatic (and seasonal) peppers and thyme to create a feast fit for the light-drenched days of early autumn. If there’s a nip in the air, this dish will warm you, and if summer won’t quit, this revives. When I asked my uncle and aunt for the recipe, I learned it had been inspired by one for Poulet aux Olives in an old Robert Carrier book Feasts of Provence.
Here is my own variation – as close as I can get to the version my uncle made that night. I’ve added fingerling potatoes to roast in the fragrant chicken-y juices – the tubers are at their most fresh and flavor-rich in autumn, and so they bring a mineral savor to the meal. In colder months, I might use bacon in the tapenade as Carrier suggests, but it’s still early days for that from where I stand in the first half of September. Many thanks to my uncle and aunt for their recipe.
A quick note:
Although I will continue to post this week, I won't have much access to the internet. I'm off bridesmaid-ing on the rocky coast of Maine. I look forward to receiving and responding to all of your comments and questions - as well as to catching up on all of your fabulous sites - when I'm back online next Monday. Have a great week!
Inspired by Uncle Neil, Aunt Gladys, & Robert Carrier
1 lb fingerling potatoes or other waxy potatoes, rinsed but not peeled
1 3 – 4 lb chicken, rinsed and patted dry inside and out, giblets reserved
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves minced and stems reserved
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped
1 cup black, oil-cured olives, pits removed, meat roughly chopped
½ red bell pepper, small dice
2 tbsp capers, rinsed well
crushed red pepper flakes
1 small handful fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Halve the potatoes lengthwise (non-fingerlings may need to be quartered), and put them in a medium saucepan of cold water. Place over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes and then drain. Swirls the potatoes in the colander or sieve a few times – roughening up their surface makes them go crispy in the oven. Toss them into a roasting pan with the chicken and drizzle both with olive oil. Arrange the potatoes halves so that they are skin-side down – they’re less likely to stick this way.
Season the chicken cavity, the chicken skin, and the potatoes with a generous amount of salt and pepper, and half the thyme leaves. Quarter one of the lemons and stuff the quarters into the chicken cavity along with the reserved thyme stems. Place the chicken in the oven for 1 hour. Remove and turn the potatoes – they won’t stick now. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add a good glug of olive oil and then the chopped onion. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the garlic and anchovies and sauté for 1 minute more, stirring often. Add the olives, red pepper, capers, and the remaining thyme leaves. Sauté, stirring often, for another minute or two. Season to taste with crushed red pepper and a little black pepper. You may need some more salt, depending in how saline your anchovies, olives and capers are. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, and set aside.
When the juices of the chicken run clear and the thigh moves loosely from the breast, set the bird aside on a carving board (preferably wood) and tent with tinfoil. Remove the potatoes to a bowl and cover to keep warm.
Place the roasting pan on the top of the stove with the heat off. Pour the white wine into the hot pan, turn the heat on to high, and reduce the liquid by half, scraping up the caramelized juices on the bottom of the pan. Reheat the tapenade over a low heat. Add the chicken stock to the roasting pan and reduce by half again. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Carve or separate the chicken and plate with the potatoes over the black olive tapenade. Ladle the pan reduction sauce over the whole, and serve immediately.