16 November 2009

Herbes de Provence

There is no set definition of Herbes de Provence, and it likely this lack of identity that creates the mystique surrounding them. Literally translated, these "Proven├žal Herbs" are a rather contemporary incarnation devised to replicate what is gathered by the handful in the hills of Southeastern France. They may include any number of herbs in various combination, including thyme, basil, savory, chervil, bay, fennel, tarragon, marjoram, oregano, mint, and lavender, although modernists generally agree that thyme sets the stage and lavender makes the "wow" factor. It is also generally agreed that Lavender is included not as a traditional savory herb, but at as a tourist-attracting ingredient that lures foreigners who have fallen head over heels for the vast lavender fields of the region. It is generally used to flavor fish and meat, especially if cooked on the grill, and these herbes are rarely added after cooking.

I've been waiting months to find a suitable recipe on which I could glut myself in the flavors of provence, and luckily I found one before my herbes lost their zing (or became curried herbes de provence because of their awkward proximity to my other spices!) While I'm no expert on such matters, I can safely assert that my particular mixture included thyme, rosemary and lavender and in combination with balsamic vinegar produced one of the most succulent pieces of meat I have ever eaten. The recipe, of course, calls for grilling, but since the weather has turned I opted for roasting in the oven. I was not disappointed. I served with piccolini pasta tossed in the reduced marinade (yes, boiled for 3.5 minutes . . .) and garlic wax beans with walnuts and mushrooms.

Herbed Balsamic Chicken with Blue Cheese
adapted from Bon Appetit

6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, 5-6 oz. each
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp coarse kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 tsp herbes de Provence
3-4 oz. wedge of blue cheese, cut into 6 slices

Place chicken in a large resealable plastic bag (I used the one the frozen chicken breast came in.) Whisk vinegar, oil, 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper in small bowl. Add to chicken, seal bag and chill 2 hours, turning bag occasionally. You really want that chicken to absorb that marinade, so make sure you turn it like it says.

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Arrange chicken on a large pan or grill pan and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and herbes de provence. It's important that I'm honest here: I'm pretty sure I used more than that. I wasn't crazy about it, but I simply sprinkled the underside of each piece of chicken, then turned it over and sprinkled it again. Into the oven for 25-3o minutes, or until cooked to 165˚F when thermometer is inserted in the thickest portion of the breast. You could also grill over medium-high heat for 6 minutes per side, but who's going to do that in the rain and wind? Not I.

Transfer to plates and top each breast with a slice of cheese. Do it fast so the heat from the chicken softens the cheese. Enjoy that thyme, lavender, and everything flavor like it's going out of style.


crazy mommy said...

You are so weird. I miss you!

Liz said...

It was so good! The blue cheese was amazing!