(In the voice of Ella Fitzgerald) “What Are You Eating New Year’s Day”
I first read “A Year in Provence” when I was still in high school, and I think it may have single-handedly turned my interest towards food and the finer art of living well. Twenty-five years later, I still think the best way to start your New Year is with a feast, reminiscent of Mr. Mayle’s encounters in his new home in the south of France. For example:
“THE YEAR BEGAN with lunch.
We have always found that New Year’s Eve, with its eleventh-hour excesses and doomed resolutions, is a dismal occasion for all the forced jollity and midnight toasts and kisses. And so, when we heard that over in the village of Lacoste, a few miles away, the proprietor of Le Simiane was offering a six-course lunch with pink champagne to his amiable clientele, it seemed like a much more cheerful way to start the next twelve months.
By 12:30 the little stone-walled restaurant was full. There were some serious stomachs to be seen—entire families with the embonpoint that comes from spending two or three diligent hours every day at the table, eyes down and conversation postponed in the observance of France’s favorite ritual. The proprietor of the restaurant, a man who had somehow perfected the art of hovering despite his considerable size, was dressed for the day in a velvet smoking jacket and bow tie. His mustache, sleek with pomade, quivered with enthusiasm as he rhapsodized over the menu: foie gras, lobster mousse, beef en croûte, salads dressed in virgin oil, hand-picked cheeses, desserts of a miraculous lightness, digestifs. It was a gastronomic aria which he performed at each table, kissing the tips of his fingers so often that he must have blistered his lips.”
After reading that, are you wondering what to do this New Year’s Day? We, like the expat Mayle, recommend a feast. This is what’s gracing my table this year:
To start, some simple charcuterie; an assortment of delicious delights like Pate de Campagne, Smoked Garlic Sausage, Duck Liver Mousse, and Hot Dry Capicollo with Mustard, Gherkins, and Toasted Sourdough Baguette.
Then, as a main course, a roasted chicken swimming in a butter-enriched red wine sauce (recipe to follow), sided with potato “dauphinoise”, a bowl of roasted Brussels sprouts, and an earthy mushroom salad with a tarragon vinaigrette.
To finish the meal we’ll eat cheese, which will have been sitting on a board at room temperature since we started eating. I’ll bring home an assortment of the best of what Ontario artisans have to offer, and serve them with pears, toasted walnuts, and buckwheat honey.
And what to drink on this first day of a new year? Why bubbles and more bubbles of course! Your resolutions can start on the second of January!
Roasted Chicken in Red Wine
Serves 4-6 people
1 chicken, trussed (3.5 to 4 lbs)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small lemon
1 small onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, washed and diced
2 dried bay leaves
4 fresh thyme branches
1 cup dry red wine, something inexpensive but that you would actually drink in an emergency
1 cup chicken stock
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and diced
to taste salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Liberally season the chicken with salt and pepper. Roll the lemon on the counter using your hand and a bit of pressure (you want to “loosen” the juice by breaking up the pulp). Using a toothpick, or a sharp pointy stick-thing, poke a few holes in the lemon. Shove the lemon in the cavity of the chicken. Pour and rub the oil all over the bird. Place it in a roasting pan and pout it in the hot oven for 20 minutes, or until it is golden brown. Remove the bird after the half hour and set aside. Reduce the heat in the oven to 350°F.
While the bird is in the oven, heat a pot (large enough to fit the bird, but short enough to fit into the oven when the time comes) over a medium-low heat on your stovetop. Melt one tablespoon of butter in the pot, then add the onions, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic and sweat for another few minutes until fragrant. Add the carrot and celery and turn the heat up a bit, constantly stirring until the vegetables have softened. Season with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaves and thyme, and then deglaze the pot with the red wine, and bring it to a simmer. When it has reduced by half, add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer.
By this point the chicken should be out of the hot oven. Carefully (it’s hot!) transfer the chicken from the roasting pan into the pot. Pour any cooking juices that have collected in the roasting pan into the pot as well. Bring the liquid to a simmer again then place the pot in the oven, uncovered. Roast for about an hour, or until an instant read thermometer that has been stuck in the bird’s thigh reads 165°F. Remove the pot from the oven and let rest for twenty minutes.
After the bird has rested, take it out of the pot and place on a cutting board. Strain the roasting juices into a smaller pot (discard the solids) and bring to a light boil on a high heat on your stovetop. Reduce the sauce by a quarter, then taste and check for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and add the remaining cold butter, bit by bit, whisking all the while. You want to emulsify the butter into the sauce – that is, you want to make a sauce that doesn’t have a layer of fat floating on top. You will easily achieve this as long as you don’t let the sauce cone to a boil after adding the butter. Once all the butter is incorporated, turn the heat off and set the sauce aside.
Carve the chicken – first cut the breast from the carcass and slice it, then separate the legs from the carcass before splitting them at the thigh-drumstick joint. Arrange everything (including the wings) in a deep platter and pour half the sauce over the chicken. Serve with the extra sauce on the side.