Truly these are enigmatic times in which we live, and one can scant envision what Newton would think were he to travel in time and witness the manners in which we live our lives. Cell phones, tablets, you name it: we are in a drastically different era of discovery.
While I would in no way compare the study of food to the study of physics – although you can’t have the latter without the former – I do sit on my couch on occasion and wonder what it was like 300 or so years ago. And then I ponder the nonsense that we chefs play around with these days: molecular gastronomy such as spherification, foams, gels, emulsifications, et al.
But, at the end of the day, we always revert back to the classics. Once a verboten item, old-fashioned terrines and charcuterie are now much in favor in our industry, and for good reason. They are delicious when made right. Jams, preserves and pickles are all making their way onto the average diner’s plate as they sup in restaurants.
Even crackers, when homemade and tangy accoutrements to cheese and meats, are exciting additions to the contemporary scene. But, it wasn’t like that 20 years ago. Many considered all of these foods to be pedestrian, in large part because of the marketing prowess of the food manufacturers who told us that speed-scratch (partially prepared items) are superior to homemade. In many instances, labor cost is an issue that must be addressed. Truth be told, I’ve worked in kitchens where we didn’t have the manpower to create house-cured bacon, fresh pickles, jams, compotes, cured meats and all of the other cool things that chefs like to work with nowadays.
As I move through the industry as I have for over 30 years, it never ceases to amaze me how trends are started and abruptly ended in such drastic manners. Hopefully, the trend of fresh, hand-crafted foods is here to stay. In speaking with a broad-line distributor lately, they noted that 50 percent of their gross sales were in fresh product. That made me very happy. That means that the brokers are still in that market with the other half of the portfolio, so this should be a win-win for everyone, especially the customer.
And now it’s time to eat one of my favorite handmade meals; Provencal roasted chicken with ratatouille and beet salad. The combination of flavors is mind numbing, and the end result is a meal that I would be proud to serve to anyone. Just make sure that you come hungry, and leave your science at the door.
Provencal Roasted Chicken for 2
1 3-pound chicken
3 Tbsp. Herbes de Provence (recipe follows)
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
2 tsp. Ground black pepper
1 cup EV Olive oil
1/2 cup Sherry vinegar
Juice of 3 oranges
full head of garlic, peeled
1 Medium Spanish onion
1. Prep chicken by deboning as much as you want. I prefer to start at the back and remove the rib cages and the spine. I leave the wings and legs intact
2. Mix everything else thoroughly in a 1-gallon Ziploc bag and add the chicken
3. Squeeze the air out and move the bag around liberally so as to distribute the marinade around the chicken. You want it in every nook and cranny
4. Refrigerate for at least two hours and fire up the grill
5. Grill skin-side down for about three minutes per side until the skin is crispy and you have a nice, earthy aroma
6. Place on a pan and finish in 375-degree oven until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees
7. Remove, but keep warm, allowing chicken to stay warm until service
8. Serve with a beet salad, garlic confit (recipe follows) and ratatouille (or any nice vegetable side dish). Enjoy and slumber, as this is the comfort food to end all comfort foods
Herbes de Provence
Makes 1/2 cup
1 Tbsp. Marjoram
1 Tbsp. Lavender
1 Tbsp. Savory
1 Tbsp. Rosemary
1 Tbsp. Tarragon
1 Tbsp. Parsley
1 Tbsp. Thyme
1 Tbsp. Fennel seed
1. Combine all herbs, ensuring that they are thoroughly mixed
2. Keep in airtight container until ready to use
3. For a finer blend, run in a spice mill for a few seconds
Makes 2 cups
2 cups Fresh garlic cloves
4 cups EV Olive oil
1. The secret here is low and slow. Place the garlic in the oil and place on a low heat; it may drive you crazy that it takes longs to heat up, but you are not frying garlic
2. Watch until the tiniest bubble starts coming from the garlic and then maintain the heat right there
3. Cook for at least an hour, or until the garlic is puree-smooth and not colored in the least
4. Remove from heat and cool. The oil can be used for any application that calls for garlic oil, garlic, or oil. It’s a wonderful thing