Authentic Basque chicken is made with a pepper as elite as French Champagne.

Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) is a French food-labeling term that was originally reserved for wine. It certifies, for the benefit of buyers and consumers, that the contents of a bottle have, without a doubt, been produced in a specified geographic region.

However, there are now over 200 products, from Norman camembert cheese to Corsican honey, that share the same elite distinction as French Champagne. And, in a Basque town called Espelette, there is a fiery red pepper that has held the AOC designation since 2000.

Taste the Difference

Cultivated in less than a dozen French communes, the Espelette pepper is the shining star of many Basque recipes. Ground into a powder or paste, it adds a smoky flavor to any dish. For home cooks who cannot find this unique ingredient in their neighborhood market, it is sometimes substituted with spicy paprika or cayenne powder. However, it has a distinct flavor profile, so to make more authentic Basque recipes, Espelette pepper can be purchased in some specialty stores as well as online.

Poulet Basquaise is a hearty dish that was made for autumn. Not only will it fill your home with a mouthwatering aroma as it simmers, but it is brimming with warmth and its gold, amber and crimson colors match the changing leaves of the season. As an added bonus, it can be on your table within 45 minutes.

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 chicken legs (drumstick + thigh), skin on
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup white wine
2 red bell peppers, peeled and cubed
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon spicy paprika (or Piment d’Espelette powder or paste)
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

In a deep saucepan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Brown chicken on each side for a total of about 8 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside. Drain excess fat if needed. Add chopped onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute until just fragrant, paying attention not to burn either.

Deglaze the pan with wine by scrubbing the bottom with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add bell pepper, tomato, paprika or Espelette powder/paste, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir to mix together and return the chicken to the pan. Reduce heat, cover with a lid and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Serve with rice on the side.

Makes 4 servings.