Herbs de Provence
Herbs de Provence is a classic choice of mixed herbs for roast chicken. I cooked in many French cafés and the French chefs nearly always flavored roast chicken with either thyme or Herbs de Provence and sometimes both.
Herbs de Provence basically means herbs that are gathered along trails and paths in the countryside of the region of Provence, France. In general, there is no strict definition of specific herbs in the mixture, because the mixture depends on the herbs that are gathered on one particular day. Savory, marjoram, rosemary, oregano and lovage are the bulk of the herbs in the mixture. Thyme is usually not included in the mix and this is in keeping with the unconventional nature of Herbs de Provence.
There are two variations of this classic herb mixture in modern times. Some say that lavender is not part of an authentic Herbs de Provence mix. This may not be true because Herbs de Provence always has been an unconventional French herb mixture. The modern French version has lavender leaves in the mix and the American version has lavender flowers. The French version is what I use because the dried lavender flowers can scorch while roasting.
Presenting Roast Chicken
Roast chicken with a fruit sauce is a classic entrée that is still offered on menus at country clubs, cafés and classic fine dining restaurants. The last time that I made roast chicken with a wild cherry sauce was while working for a Swiss chef at a country club back in the early 1980's. Wild Sour Cherries from Eastern Europe are the best for making this sauce. Jars of Preserved Wild Cherries or packages of Dried Wild Cherries can be found in Eastern European food markets.
A half of a roasted chicken is considered to be a classic portion in traditional fine dining restaurants and French cafés. Offering a whole roasted chicken for two is another option. How the chicken is served depends on the dining room table service style. Presenting the roast chicken on a platter and carving it at the table for guests is classic Russian and French table service style.
In many modern fine dining restaurants, the portion size has shrunk to less than a 4 ounce roasted chicken breast. Those who remember the old days of fine dining are alienated because the dining value is questionable. By the definition of classic fine dining standards in the past in the past, a customer pays to eat and a customer does not pay to see a chefs name in neon lights, then just end up with a tiny morsel of food on a plate! Due to recent petite portion health cuisine trends, it is highly unlikely that a roasted whole or half bird will be seen on a fine dining menu, unless one reserves a table at a classic restaurant, a country club or yacht club.
It is necessary fo a chef to know each dining room service style when presenting a roasted whole or half chicken. Home cooks that entertain guests on a formal occasion can make use of these same elegant dining room service styles, so this knowledge is good to know. Dining room service knowledge does come in handy during the holiday season.
Here are some of the popular classic holiday service styles that achieve a nice level of elegance. Roast chicken is used as an example:
• Modern French Table Service - Modern French table service is a modified classic Russian Table Service. Chef Marie-Antoine Carême created this service style with the intention of setting a higher standard of table service elegance.
The chicken is carved, plated and presented on a cart by the tableside. A maitre d', captain or a lead waiter carves the roasted chicken on a service cart and carefully plates the entrée, so an organized focal point is achieved.
The chicken is deboned and sliced. The legs and wings can be left whole with the bone intact. Usually the thigh is the only portion of the leg that is deboned.
The sauce is applied after the entree is placed in front of the customer. The sauce is usually prepared in the kitchen, but it can also be prepared or finished by the tableside.
• Classic French Banquet Table Service - This is the formal banquet table design that Marie-Antoine Carême created. A set banquet table with all the food in place is what many Americans call the classic Thanksgiving Spread.
Carême's design usually employs an elevated central focal point that is an elaborate dessert, a fully prepared carved garnished roast or an entrée that is ready to serve. Every sauce, vegetable, side dish, condiment and secondary entree is arranged on the table around the central focal point. Every item is placed within reach of each guest, so no standing or food passing is necessary.
A large table may require a food offerings to be placed on several plates that are strategically located on table sectors, so they are within reach of each group of guests. Multiple centerpieces are an option for a large long table setting. The service staff or the host of the dinner party can plate the centerpiece entrée or dessert for guests. The service staff is expected to assist and offer beverages.
• Russian Table Service - This table service involves presenting the carved roasted chicken on a tray in the kitchen, then it is carried directly from the kitchen to the table. Nothing is prepared tableside and no carts are used. The entrée, vegetables and sauces are carried by servers and each item is ready to be served. The servers transfer the entrée portions to each of the guest's plates and they offer the accompaniments.
Dinner plates are stacked at each guest's place at the table, so a plate that was used can be removed and a new plate underneath is ready for the next course. This service is very formal and it is organized by a lead waitstaff member.
• American Table Service - The chicken is carved, plated, sauce and garnished in the kitchen and then each plate is carried to the guests. The chef has complete control over the food presentation. Tableside service is not usually an option.
• English Table Service - The host carves, plates and presents the roasted chicken at the head of the table. The finished plates are passed to guests on one side of the table first, then to guests on the other side. The guest of honor is usually served first. At estates, either the chef, butler or host can do the carving honors. This service can be casual or formal.
• Family Style Table Service - The Chicken is carved and placed on a tray in the kitchen then it is placed on the center of the table. The guests serve themselves. All accompaniments are placed on communal plates that are passed by request. Family style is basically setting the food on the table and allowing the guests to dig in!
There are many more traditional table service styles around the globe. Each table service style that is listed above has many more formalities that are necessary to know. Serving from the right and clearing dirty plates from the left is a common formality. It pays to do some research to learn the complete table service definition of whichever style that is chosen. The corresponding place setting styles must be learned too.
As one can see, there is more than one way to carve and serve a roasted chicken!
Herbs de Provence Roasted Chicken:
For 1 serving, a half chicken is plenty. For 2 servings, roast one whole chicken!
This simple recipe is done the classic French way. This means that the chicken is lightly browned before it is roasted.
Step 1: Trim any excess fat or skin off of one chicken half.
Lightly season the chicken with sea salt and black pepper.
Step 2: Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
Place the chicken in the pan with the skin side facing down.
Sauté the the chicken, till the skin turns a light golden brown color.
Step 3: Remove the chicken half from the pan and place it on a wire screen roasting rack on a roasting pan. The skin side should be facing up.
Sprinkle a few generous pinches of French Herbs de Provence over the chicken. Press the herbs onto the chicken.
Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Step 4: Roast the chicken in a 350ºF oven. Spoon the pan drippings or melted unsalted butter from the sauté step over the chicken occasionally.
Roast the chicken till golden brown highlights appear and it is fully cooked. (A probe thermometer should read 165º for 15 seconds.)
Allow the chicken to rest for 2 minutes before carving.
The Wild Cherry Sauce can be prepared while the chicken roasts!
Wild Cherry Sauce:
This recipe yields about 1 1/3 cups of sauce.
Wild Cherries can be found in the countryside, but they are easier to find in an Eastern European food market! Eastern European markets stock jars of Wild Sour Cherries packed in their own juices. Wild Cherries are usually called Sour Cherries.
Cornstarch or arrow root can be used to add body to a sauce like this, but care must be taken not to add too much. The sauce should be a thin glacé consistency.
Step 1: Heat a stainless steel sauce pot over medium/medium high heat.
Add 1/2 cup of water.
Add 1/4 cup of granulated sugar.
Boil till the water evaporates and the molten sugar starts to bubble as it enters the candy stages.
Cook the sugar till is becomes a light yellow amber color. (About 320ºF)
Step 2: Add 1/2 cup of the cherry juice from a jar of preserved wild sour cherries.
Add 1/2 cup of French Beaujolais Wine. (100% Gamay Grape Wine)
Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of cider vinegar.
Add 1 pinch of allspice.
Add 1 small pinch of powdered ginger.
Add 1 pinch of sea salt.
Step 3: Bring the liquid to a boil.
Reduce the temperature to low heat.
Simmer and reduce till about 1 cup of liquid remains.
Step 4: Raise the temperature to medium heat.
Add 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of preserved pitted whole wild sour cherries that were packed in their own juices. (Drain the juice off. The juice was used earlier in this recipe! The amount of cherries is a personal choice.)
Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
Step 5: Mix a small amount of cornstarch and cold water slurry in a bowl. (About 1 tablespoon is plenty. Any extra can be saved for later use.)
Add just enough of the slurry, while stirring, to give the glacé sauce a thin syrup consistency. (The fruit should barely be able to be kept in suspension. The sauce should just barely glaze a spoon.)
Step 6: Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.
Place the sauce in a ramekin before serving. Serve the sauce on the side.
Herbs de Provence Roast Chicken with Wild Cherry Sauce ~ Table-Side Style:
Step 1: Place the Roasted Herbs de Provence Chicken Half on a serving platter.
Garnish the platter in a simple fashion with curly leaf parsley sprigs.
Present the chicken to the guest along with the ramekin of Wild Cherry Glacé on a side platter.
Step 2: Slice through the drumette joint and set the wing aside.
Use a knife to separate the leg sections from the breast section.
Separate the leg and thigh.
Set the thigh on the center of a plate.
Step 3: Carve bias slices of boneless chicken breast off of the rib cage.
Overlap the chicken breast slices, so they lean against the thigh and fan out from the center of the plate.
Lean the leg against the thigh, so it stands upright.
Lean the wing against the thigh.
Step 4: Set the plate in front of the guest.
Offer the Wild Cherry Glacé sauce to the guest.
Spoon a portion of the sauce on the place around the roast chicken. (Sauce should never be poured directly over a roasted item!)
Offer vegetables of your choice on the side.
Voila! A nice tasting roasted chicken entrée with a classic fruit sauce!