Chicken Provençal is perhaps one of the best examples of true French peasant food. Bone-in chicken is simmered in a tomato broth and infused with typical Provence flavors of herbs de Provence, thyme, garlic and of course olives.
For a more traditional Chicken Provençal, leave out the saffron and substitute lemon zest for the orange zest and chopped fresh parsley for the basil. If you compare this version to the traditional dish, we found the saffron, orange zest and basil added a new dimension to the dish as well as brightening it up, making it a nice dish to serve in the early spring.
Niçoise olives are the best choice of olives, but if they aren’t available, kalamata olives will do in a pinch. I find it handy to keep a tube of tomato paste in my refrigerator for recipes such as this that don’t call for a lot of tomato paste. If you’re concerned about fat, don’t fret about the chicken skin; it’s removed & discarded after the chicken is browned. If you want to jazz it up, add a few drained capers. Whatever you do, please don’t leave out the anchovies. They bring an air of richness to the sauce without being noticeable in the least.
We like something green on the plate and suggest either perfectly cooked haricots verts (French green beans) topped with slivered almonds or fresh asparagus, which we’ve shown here. Or you can opt for a more rustic approach and serve it in a bowl with a scoop of rice placed in the same bowl on the side shown here.
We love slow braises such as this. They can be made in advance and almost always, we have leftovers. I hope you’ll give this recipe a try. We loved it and think it would make an attractive dish for company.
Chicken Provençal with Saffron, Orange, and Basil
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best French Recipes, serves 4
8 (5 to 7 ounce) bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 anchovy fillet, rinsed, dried and minced
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
1 (14.5 ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained (reserve juice) and broken apart with a knife or spoon
1 cup low-fat, low salt chicken broth
2 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon dried herbs de Provence
1 bay leaf
1 ½ teaspoons grated orange zest
½ cup pitted niçoise olives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil plus more for garnish
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees F.
Season chicken with salt. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a Dutch oven medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 4 thighs, skin side down, and cook without moving them until skin is crispy and well browned, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken and brown on second side, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a large plate and repeat with remaining 4 thighs. When done, transfer them to the plate with the other thighs and set aside.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pan. Add onions to pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, minced anchovy and cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the saffron threads to the wine, then add to the pot, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the tomatoes, chicken broth, tomato paste, thyme, oregano, herbs de Provence, and bay leaf. Remove and discard skin from the chicken, then submerge chicken in the liquid and add any accumulated chicken juices to the pot. Increase the heat to high, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer pot to oven and cook until chicken offers no resistant when poked with the tip of a paring knife but still clings to the bone, about 1 ¼ hours.
Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the chicken pieces to platter and tent with aluminum foil. Discard bay leaf. Set pot over high heat, stir in 1 teaspoon orange zest and olives, then bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally until the sauce is thickened and reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes.
Cook’s notes: At this point, if your sauce is too thin, thicken with a cornstarch and water slurry (equal amounts of cornstarch and water, stirred to incorporate). If your sauce is too thick, add some of the retained juice from the tomatoes.
Meanwhile mix basil and remaining ½ teaspoon orange zest together. To serve, place chicken thighs on individual plates, spoon some sauce over and sprinkle with basil mixture and serve accompanied by fluffy white rice.