Viva la France!

Yesterday Spring was finally and truly here.  She pushed through Winter’s heavy door with a resounding “Here I come, Baby!”  And, was I ever glad to see her!   A cacophony of singing birds greeted me when I walked outside; the temperature rose into the lower 70s; in my backyard, purple crocus saluted the sun, all abloom.   Everyone was in a good mood.  You just could not help but be. It almost felt like an early summer day in the South of France.  And, the thought of the South of France and the warmth of the day made me think of one dinner in particular:  Grilled Butterflied Chicken. 

I first had this dish in France- about 12 years ago.  Tad and I were living in London at the time and desperately wanted to do a vacation in the south of France in June.  My brothers and sister and their spouses heard about the plan and wanted in!  So, all of us rented a fabulous château in Uzes, just on the border of Languedoc and Provence.  It was early June and the weather was phenomenal.  Our days were defined by crystal blue skies, sun and warm, but not hot, air.  We spent our days sightseeing, shopping, and hiking; and, then we returned to our wonderful château for a nap and late dinner. 

Our meals were truly family affairs- with everyone pitching in to help create them.  And, we got lucky with our location.  Unbeknownst to us when we rented, Uzes is famous for its’ exceptional market held several days a week.  On market days, we would go into town and pick up extraordinary produce, oils, breads and cheeses.  On the first of these visits to the market, we discovered a fantastic butcher shop.  There in the case were butterflied chickens soaking in olive oil, garlic, lemons, herbs de Provence, rosemary and onions.  They looked fabulous.  We bought two and the butcher instructed us not to refrigerate the poultry before cooking.  I followed his direction and left the chicken out in a cool section of the kitchen to sit in the marinade. 

We grilled the birds that night and they were scrumptious.  As we sat at the long French country table with fresh wine, cheese, fruit and vegetables and poultry all from the region, it was clear that simple and fresh trumps almost anything else when it comes to food.  Everything on that table had been grown locally and harvested the day before, if not that morning.  The results were so startlingly delicious and elegant that the meal has stayed with me for twelve years. 

And, while I can’t always replicate the breadth and depth of the local produce and poultry, I have been grilling my chicken the same way since and everyone always raves!  Viva la France!

Note- with this recipe, I am giving quantities to make two chickens at once because the leftovers-if there are any-are so fabulous.

Note #2: There are several ways to make this dish.  I am giving you the French way-which is to make it the same say that you will eat it.  The alternative is to marinate the chicken for 24 hours in the fridge-wrapping it well in plastic wrap.  Make sure to bring the chicken out and close to room temperature before grilling.

Grilled Butterflied Chicken –serves 8

2 butterflied whole chickens, preferably organic, 4 lbs or so. Ask the butcher to butterfly them for you.

2 c. good quality olive oil

6-8 cloves garlic, finely chopped

grated rind of one lemon

2 lemons, sliced into rounds

one sweet onion, sliced thinly

fresh rosemary- about 8 stalks

fresh parsley, cilantro or basil

herbes de Provence

Sea Salt/Pepper

About 5 hours before you intend to grill, remove the chicken from the refrigerator, rinse them and pat them dry.  Allow poultry to sit on a baking sheet with sides, lightly covered, at room temperature for an hour or so.  (If you are running late, you can take the bird and soak it in warm-but not hot-water for 20 minutes or so to let it relax before marinating.  (That is not a joke!)  Just pat it dry and continue as directed.)

First, loosen the skin of the breast and leg by placing your finger between the skin and the flesh of the chicken and making a little pocket.  Place a stalk or two of fresh rosemary in each pocket. 

Cover the chicken with olive oil- making sure to spread it on both sides.  Take some of the garlic and rub it into the skin of the chicken.  Salt, pepper and add some of the  fresh herbs and herbes de Provence to the skin as well.  Flip the chicken so that it is skin side down on the baking sheet.  Add the following ingredients to the interior of the chicken: the grated rind of the lemon, garlic, lemon slices, onion, fresh herbs, herbes de Provence, salt and pepper.  Moisten with a little more olive oil.  Close the chicken by flipping half on top of the other half.  (At this point, if you are making this 24 hours in advance- cover your baking dish with plastic wrap and return the chicken to the fridge.) If making for that day, lightly cover and let stand a room temperature for 3 hours or so.

Prepare a grill to medium hot.  Place the chicken skin side down on the grill and cover the grill.  Cook for 13-14 minutes.  Flip the chicken, replace the cover  and cook for an addition 13-14 minutes- or until cooked all the way through.



  1. Posted March 21, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    OMG — this sounds unbelievable (both the vacation and the chicken)! I am trying this just as soon as I can get to a butcher to request a butterflied chicken. How divine! One question: what is a baking seat?

  2. Posted March 24, 2010 at 6:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    Ok, Caroline, this sounds fantastic–for this non-cook, it’s also inspiring. I will give this a try and report back. Ruth

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: