Sunny southern France, known for swaying fields of purple lavender buds, also is flush with all manner of aromatic herbs. Tarragon, fennel, savory, sage, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, thyme, mint, oregano and more grow wild.
Any combination of them can make up the dried seasoning blend called herbes de Provence, a one-stroke flavor booster that evokes Mediterranean summer — and was introduced to Americans in the 1970s by Julia Child.
We use it to great effect with bone-in chicken breast in this simple skillet dinner from our book “Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region. Before searing just the skin side of the chicken, we toss the blend with garlic, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, zucchini and capers. We then sear the chicken and nestle it into the vegetables to roast in a 475℉ oven.
Deglazing the pan with half a cup of dry vermouth is ideal for creating a sauce out of the flavorful browned bits left in the pan after searing the chicken. Dry white wine works, too. A tablespoon of caper brine stirred into the sauce adds a welcome briny tartness that pairs well with the floral notes of the herbs.
When shopping, look for bone-in chicken breasts that are about 12 ounces each. Larger ones require longer cooking, which will result in overdone vegetables. And when you remove the skillet from the oven, don’t forget that the handle will be hot.
Start to finish: 45 minutes
Four 12-ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, trimmed
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons herbes de Provence
6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced about ¼ inch thick
1 yellow, orange or red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick
¼ cup drained capers, plus 1 tablespoon caper brine
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil, torn (optional)
Heat the oven to 475℉ with a rack in the middle position. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of oil, the herbes de Provence, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, zucchini and capers, then toss to combine; set aside.
In a 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add the chicken skin down and cook without disturbing until golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the chicken skin up to a large plate.
Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from the skillet. Add the vermouth, bring to a boil over medium-high and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring, until just warmed through, about 1 minute, then distribute in an even layer. Nestle the chicken skin up in the vegetables and add any accumulated juices. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the thickest part of the breast reaches about 160°F, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven (the handle will be hot). Transfer the chicken skin up to a serving platter. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the platter, arranging them around the chicken.
Set the skillet over high, bring the liquid to a simmer and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened and reduced, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in the caper brine, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce around the chicken and over the vegetables. Sprinkle with basil (if using).
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap
Christopher Kimball, The Associated Press