02

Oct

2008

Susan Pinkard: French Food History Savante

Written by: Susan Pinkard

 

Susan Pinkard’s new book A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine showcases her intimate knowledge of how French cuisine became what it is. Her mastery extends beyond this — she has excavated some of the most influential recipes and cooking techniques from the early modern French kitchen, from master chefs like Marin, La Varenne and Bonnefons.

A couple nights ago, I had a whole chicken, some leeks, a bunch of parsley, and a whole lot of butter, so I gave one a whirl!

Here are the recipes I used, and the results were superb.

Each week, I’ll post more historical recipes from early modern France, and Pinkard will contribute some myth-busting articles about the origins of many of our favorite dishes and techniques.

Trust me, they’re sure to shake things up.

Master Recipe for Roasted Chicken

Equipment: 3–5 feet of kitchen string (depending on the size of the bird) for trussing; a roasting pan just large enough to hold the chicken; a spoon or bulb baster; and a large, heated serving platter.

A roasting chicken, 4–5 pounds, free-range and naturally fed, if possible (if you use a smaller chicken in the range of 3–31/2 pounds, decrease the roasting time by 10–15 minutes or so)
Salt
Pepper
Optional: 1 small onion, peeled and studded with 2 cloves
1 Tb soft butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees; rack in the lower middle position.
  2. Pull any visible fat out of the cavity of the chicken. Wash and dry inside and out. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and the optional onion and cloves.
  3. Truss the chicken to keep it in shape while it roasts. Fold the wing tips under the neck of the chicken to hold them in place. Slide the kitchen string under the hips of the bird. Pull the string up over the legs and cross into an X; then draw the string down under the tips of the drumsticks. Run the strings along both sides of the bird; as you cross the wing joints, flip the chicken over and tie the strings in a double knot behind the neck.
  4. Place the bird on its back in the roasting pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper and massage with 1 Tb of butter.
  5. Put the chicken into the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Loosen the chicken with a wooden spoon (otherwise it will stick and be difficult to remove from the pan).
  6. Turn the oven down to 400. Continue roasting for an additional 50–55 minutes. (If your chicken is smaller, roast for an additional 40 minutes or so.) Test to see if the bird is done (tender breast and thigh meat, legs that move easily in their sockets, no pink juices draining from the vent). Remove from the oven when done and keep warm until serving time (all roasted chickens benefit from a rest of 10–15 minutes before carving).

ROASTED CHICKEN WITH GREEN BUTTER SAUCE (MARIN)

This recipe exemplifies the simplicity and finesse of Marin’s cooking. The recipe calls for a sauce that finished with a liaison of green herb butter. Substituting the herb butter for the sweet butter one would normally use infuses the sauce with subtle perfume and turns plain roasted chicken into a memorable treat. Serve with plenty of French bread to soak up the last delicious drops of sauce and follow with a green salad on the same plate.

Equipment: String to truss the chicken, a roasting pan, a wooden spoon, and a deep serving platter.

A chicken, see previous recipe
1/2 cup best-quality chicken bouillon or stock
2–3 Tb green herb butter with leek and parsley (see below)

  1. Roast the chicken as in the previous master recipe.
  2. When the chicken is done, remove it to the platter and keep warm.
  3. To make the sauce, deglaze the pan with the reduced chicken bouillon (if there is excess chicken fat, skim it off the top); boil down until it is slightly syrupy.
  4. Off the heat, swirl in 2–3 Tb of the green herb butter.
  5. Carve the chicken into serving pieces and serve with a little of the sauce under each piece.

GREEN BUTTER WITH LEEK AND PARSLEY (MARIN)

Makes about 1 Cup

Modern recipes for cold, flavored butters typically call for such things as minced herbs, anchovies, garlic, lemon juice, mustard, or shallots to be beaten into softened, creamed butter and then chilled prior to use. Marin’s recipe is unusual in that it calls for leek and parsley to simmer in butter over very low heat, a process that enhances the flavor and aroma of the herbs in the finished product.5 Because the butter and herbs are forced through a sieve or food mill or buzzed in a food processor, the leek and parsley form a fine pur´ee suspended in the butter. Marin used beurre vert, as he called it, to finish a sauce for roasted chicken (see following recipe) and as a flavoring to be inserted between the skin and breast meat of chickens and other birds. He also noted that green butter adapted well in recipes for veal. For example, I have used green butter as the liaison in a simple deglazing sauce for sautéed veal chops and was delighted with the results. Green butter keeps well in a screw-top jar in the refrigerator, so you can always have some on hand with which to experiment. If the leek and parsley pur´ee settles at the bottom of the jar, don’t worry; just make sure that you include some of the herbs in each spoonful of the butter you use.

Marin specified blanching the leek and parsley in boiling salted water before mincing. Youmay do this, if you like, although I find it unnecessary – the long simmer in the butter releases the perfume of the herbs and softens them sufficiently for pur´eeing in the next step. Although the leek and parsley mixture is wonderful, you may want to experiment with other combinations of herbs, for variety.

Equipment: A small saucepan, a sharp knife, a wooden spoon, a food processor or a sieve or a food mill, a small bowl, and a screw-top jar or other storage container.

1 tender, young leek, root and tough greens trimmed, cleaned of all dirt and finely minced
2–4 sprigs of parsley, finely minced
Pinch of salt
8 ounces (1/2 pound or 2 sticks) unsalted butter

  1. Put the minced leek and parsley, the salt, and 1 Tb of the butter in a small saucepan. Cover and set over very low heat. The herbs should sweat in the butter without browning.
  2. After 10 minutes, add the rest of the butter, cut into pieces, to the pan. Allow to melt slowly. Simmer the butter and herbs over low heat for 10–15 minutes or so.
  3. Purée the butter, leek, and parsley mixture in the food processor or with the sieve or food mill, forcing though as many of the solids as possible (La Varenne instructed the reader to “use the force of your arms”).
  4. Pour the puréed butter into the jar and allow to cool completely before putting on the top. Store in the refrigerator until needed.

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About the Author: Susan Pinkard

Susan Pinkard is author of A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine, 1650–1800 (2010). Pinkard holds a Master's degree and a Ph.D. in Modern European History from the University of Chicago. Since 2005, she has been a full-time visitin...

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