Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Simple Late Spring Supper




Another unseasonably warm May evening had me beating a path to the barbecue. This time, I wanted to capture something of Southern France - after all, the sun that shines on me is the same sun that shines on Provence, is it not?  A whole chicken - roasted as if it were Sunday supper. I wanted a proper oven-roast, but given the wondrous weather it had to be en plain air, so I roasted the chicken within the BBQ. Why not? It can get extremely hot in the small space under the lid, quite like a wood-fired oven. A cast iron pan is essential for something like this. To further dampen the effect of bottom-up heat, I placed the cast iron pan atop a ceramic pizza stone. This baffles the direct heat somewhat allowing for more of a baking action than a grilling action.

To take the 'roast dinner' concept a bit further, I filled the bird with a simple bread and onion stuffing. Lots of sage delivered some Tuscan, earthy notes and the addition of simple sauteed ratatouille brought it back to the land of the ancient Mistral.

Roast Chicken Provencal (on a BBQ)

1 whole chicken, preferably a smallish hen
1 bunch of sage leaves
1 bay leaf
1 bunch of fresh thyme
250 g of stale-ish bread, cubed
1 slice of streaky bacon, cut up into lardons
1 onion sliced
1 clove of garlic sliced
150 ml of white wine
15 ml olive oil

Get the olive oil frizzling in a pan on medium heat. Add the lardons and the onion and allow them to cook down a bit, then add the garlic, a solid pinch of fresh thyme, and about the same amount of sliced sage and a couple of bay leaves. Once the garlic starts to take on a little colour (about five minutes), pour in half the white wine. Burn off the alcohol (another four minutes or so), and then take the pan off the heat and let it cool slightly (also discard the bay leaves). Get your cubed bread into a large prep bowl and fold in the onions mixture, follow that up with the other half of the wine and a generous seasoning. Then, scrunch all the ingredients with your fingers. Now prep your chicken. Slide some whole sage leaves under the skin of the chicken. Then season the cavity and fill with the onion-bread stuffing. Securely truss the drumsticks with some butchers twine to ensure you keep all the goodness inside the bird. Season the works very liberally with salt and sprinkle some fresh thyme on top. Now, get it into the cast iron pan.  

Turn your BBQ up to full whack and let it preheat. If you have a thermometer gauge on your BBQ you're looking for about 500 F. Now get the pizza stone in the BBQ and the your pan on top of that. Try to avoid parking it right in the middle of the grills - set it up to one or the other sides. Now kill the burner immediately under your pan, but keep all other burners on full power. Now close the lid and walk away for awhile. The chicken will require about one and a half hours to cook. You will occasionally have to open the lid to regulate the temperature and feel free to baste. Some people say that basting a roast chicken will effect the crispiness of the skin. I just can't help myself. I like to baste.

Stove-top Ratatouille

3 medium zucchinis, cut into quarter-inch medallions
Half of a large red onion, chopped roughly
A generous handful of grape tomatoes
A pinch of herbs de Provence
15 ml olive oil

You'll notice there is no  eggplant in my ratatouille; reason being, I simply didn't have any. Is it still a ratatouille? I  would think so.

Get the oil in the pan and once hot, add the onions. Allow them to sweat down somewhat, then add the zucchini, the herbs de province and season with salt and pepper. Shake everything around so that the oil coats everything. After about six or seven minutes, drop in the tomatoes. You want them to warm through and just start to pucker a bit, then you're done.

Put the whole roast bird on a platter, untie the legs and pull out a goodly portion of the stuffing. Tumble the colourful ratatouille all around - summer on a plate.

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