Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F, Gas Mark 3).
Place the onions in a deep casserole dish with the olive oil, the thyme, a little salt and the cayenne pepper. Sit the cleaned chicken on top of the onions, season with salt and pepper. Cover the casserole and cook very gently in the oven for about 1½ hours. The onions must not brown, but melt gradually almost to a purée, as in pissaladière. Add a little more oil during cooking if necessary.
When the chicken is tender, lift it out of the onion mix and carve it into pieces. Tip the onions into a colander and drain off some of the olive oil – the quantity prescribed is perfect to cook the onions but a bit too authentic for modern tastes – and place them in a large serving dish. Place the chicken pieces on top and scatter the olives – stoned or unstoned – over the top.
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