Ford Madox Ford’s Xmas Provençal chicken

This year, instead of a tree, we decorated Max’s beloved pole lamp. He calls the result a “3-way collision between Festivus austerity, Xmas kitsch, and midcentury modernism.”

I call it, “We can take all that down on the 1st, right?”

Christmas Day was an intimate and jolly affair. Joseph brought his cornbread-sausage-fennel stuffing and his chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Max made the salad, kept the wine flowing, and struggled against the rising tide of dishes. I tried Hannah Green’s (a/k/a Joanne Greenberg of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) “Ford Madox Ford’s Garlic Chicken” recipe from The Great American Writers Cookbook. It required some guesswork: oven temperature, size of bird, etc. After our feast, we could barely straggle out to meet a friend for a 7:15 showing of Milk.

I hope your holidays have been merry and bright, however you’ve celebrated them, and that 2009 brings you only good things. I’ll leave you till early January with Green’s recipe (and a few of my own [bracketed] notes).

Ford Maddox Ford’s Garlic Chicken

I call it my garlic chicken, but I sometimes also call it Ford Madox Ford’s garlic chicken because the idea comes from his Provence. His recipe calls for at least a kilo of garlic — but that may be the result of his grand hyperbole when it comes to anything Provençal. (“Is it any better in heaven, Ford, than you found it in Provence?”) At any rate I’ve modified that kilo down to 3 or 4 whole garlics [I used 4], all peeled, so the cloves are placed in the roasting pan in such way as to form a bed on which the chicken is placed to roast. In this way, as Ford points out, the garlic perfumes the chicken, the sauce, (even the whole house where it is being roasted,) but only those who want to, need eat the garlic. (Ford, however, mentioned this garlic in a tale set down to prove that if you eat enough garlic, a great deal of garlic, that is, you won’t have garlic breath.) (And whether that is really true or not, I may never know.)

Here are my directions mixed with my inventions:

The whole bottom of the roasting pan should be covered with a thin layer of olive oil, and into the olive oil set the peeled cloves of garlic in a shape more or less like an almond so that the chicken can rest on them and cover them. Rub the chicken with lemon, and salt it, and pepper it. Stuff it with a tomato which should in turn itself be stuffed with a clove or two of garlic and salted and peppered. It should also, if possible, be stuffed with a few sprigs of rosemary and of thyme. (When I first started making this chicken in the winter of 1975, we were staying in a house in Provençe, and part of the cooking of the chicken consisted of running out into the garden at the last moment before the chicken went into the cover with scissors, a flashlight, an umbrella sometimes, often in a long skirt and high heels, to pick a few sprigs of rosemary and of thyme and a leaf or two of sage. [I used three sprigs of rosemary, five of thyme, and one of sage.] The chicken has always been good, but the fragrance never so intoxicating as there in Provençe with the herbs fresh from the night garden.)

Potatoes should be peeled [I did not peel them] and placed around the chicken to roast with it. [I threw a couple sprigs of rosemary and a couple of thyme on top.] I’ve never yet lived in a house with an oven that had a temperature regulator, so one of the secrets of this chicken seems to be a very hot oven, so the chicken gets crispy and brown on the outside. [I preheated my oven to 475°.] It needs constant attention. The potatoes need to be turned so they get brown on all sides [I need to do this next time], and at the same time the chicken should be basted with the hot olive oil it is cooking in, at least 4 or 5 times. Before it goes into the oven a little olive oil should be smeared on top of it, too. [I also put some on the potatoes.] It needs about an hour and 15 minutes, perhaps a little more, depending on the size of the chicken. [Mine was almost 4 pounds, and it took about 90 minutes. It never did get very crispy — maybe I used too much olive oil? — but it was moist & garlicky all the same.]

At the last minute, take out the potatoes and put them in a serving bowl, and throw in a little boiling water, perferably the water of the green vegetable, which should just itself have finished cooking. Asparagus is wonderful if it is in season. But broccoli or green beans or spinach are also good with it. [I wilted some spinach.] If there seem to be too many people for one chicken it is a good idea to make hollandaise sauce for the broccoli or the asparagus.

This makes a fine dinner for 4 people or even six [I wouldn’t say six], but it is also a great dinner for two… Perhaps I should add that the chicken should be served with a red wine. [Some of us had red, others white.] I supposed that a Chateauneuf du Pape would be the ideal wine, but it also does quite well ith a Chaors, a Medoc, a Chianti. A green salad with oil and vinegar — no spices — should be served after it. [Our salad was dressed with a little lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper.] The first course should be something light — perhaps watercress soup or sliced tomatoes with parsley, oil, and vinegar. [We had no such course.]

When the chicken is gone, throw the bones into a pot, cover it with water, add a few sprigs of celery leaf and an onion, and boil it for about two hours. Take out the chicken bones, pick off all the chicken, to put back into the soup, add some white beans, another onion, leeks, potatoes, carrots, a bit of cabbage, and a few pieces of pumpkin or melon, and you have a wonderful soup…


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