Poulet basquaise (well, my version of it, anyway)

by Elias Blum

This blog was supposed to be about ‘radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living’, but recently there has been too much about politics and religion, and not enough about culture and living. In particular, I’ve said almost nothing about my love of food and cooking, even though food is essential to life, good food is one of the great pleasures of life, and good food shared is one of the great joys of life. So, to rectify the omission, have a recipe. I served this for a small family gathering on Easter Sunday, and it was delicious.  Serves 3-4.

Take a large free range chicken. Remove the gizzards and stuff with halved lemons. Prepare a good thick mixture of salt, pepper, dried red espelette and a pinch of chilli with about 200ml of olive oil, and spread about half of it all over the chicken; keep the other half aside. Place it in a pre-heated oven dish, cover loosely with tin foil, and roast (at gas mark 7 for about an hour and a half, depending on the effectiveness of the oven and the size of the chicken – mine took closer to two hours).

Meanwhile, make the sauce: take the rest of the salt, pepper, espelette and chilli mix and heat it in a frying pan; add chopped red onion, fry until browning; then add tomatoes, pour in some rough but well-bodied red wine (peasant wine) and a small amount of chicken stock, in roughly equal measure, and reduce. While this is reducing, chop and par-boil some potatoes until they are soft enough to pass a knife through the middle.

When about half way through the cooking time of the chicken, put the potatoes into the oven dish around and under the chicken, making sure each potato is splashed and turned in the hot oil. Recover and put the whole back in the oven. Turn down the sauce, which should have by now finished reducing (it should not be ‘wet’). Pour yourself a glass of wine – but don’t sit down; now is the time to ‘clean as you go’. If you want to make a salad, now is the time to do it, although don’t dress it until the last minute.

When the chicken is thoroughly cooked, remove from the oven and carve until only the carcass remains (set aside for soup / stock). Add all the meat back into the oven dish, with the potatoes, pour over the sauce, and stir.

Put it back in the oven – perhaps turned off, but cooking in its own heat – to finish off while you set the table, dress the salad, cut the baguette, summon people to the table, light candles, and fill glasses. This should take around 10 to 15 minutes: long enough to let all the flavours mix deliciously.

Serve and enjoy.

If you cannot find espelette, then at a pinch a mix of sweet and strong paprika will do – only, not really, because espelette – a special type of pepper unique to the Basque region of France and Spain – is what makes this dish so good.