Summer Sunday Dinner: Roasted Chicken with Herbes de Provence and Mesclun with Cherries, Roasted Onions and Pine Nuts

Friday, July 9, 2010

Andrew and I both come from a family tradition where everyone gets together on Sundays for a big feast. Usually it's after everyone goes to church, then gathers at the matriarch's home for an early and elaborate Sunday dinner. Wine is flowing, the house is permeating with cooking goodness, and it's a chance for everyone to retell their adventures from the weekend and rest up before the work week begins.

I often make roasted chicken not just because it's easy, but because it's so comforting. It's probably one of my All Time Favorite things to make and eat. When done right, there is nothing better. My usual roasted chicken involves a special French herb blend called herbs de provence - a collection of dried rosemary, thyme, lavender, fennel, and various other herbs found in abundance throughout southern France. I also add fresh lemon, herbs and garlic inside the chicken so it can smell heavenly as well as be infused with the flavors.

Since moving to Seattle we've also been privy to some seriously good cherries. Although I love them just by themselves in a pretty glass bowl on a warm summer afternoon, I'm also loving them as sweet additions to salads. They're easy to pit so don't be discouraged. Pairing them with tender mesclun greens, a simple white balsamic vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts makes for a simple, colorful and seasonal salad that will leave your guests feeling so special.

This is a perfect meal for that Sunday get-together. And don't forget the wine!

Roasted Chicken with Herbs de Provence
1 4-5 pound chicken, insides removed and discarded
course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 Tbsp herbs de provence*
extra virgin olive oil
1 very large (or 2 smaller) white onions
1 lemon, cut into quarters
1 head garlic, cut in half lengthwise
4-6 fresh herbs sprigs (thyme, rosemary, sage...whatever you have on hand)

Special Equipment: roasting pan

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Take chicken and wash thoroughly, inside and out. Using paper towels, pat very dry especially in areas like under the wings and joints. Set aside.

Peel the onion and cut into very large chunks, about 1.5 inches thick. Toss in some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the onion on a single layer in the roasting pan.

Brush the chicken with some olive oil. A basting brush works best for this. Season the chicken liberally with the salt and pepper, going heavier on the seasoning with the thicker on the breast side. Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper as well. Next, lightly sprinkle the herbs de provence on the chicken, seasoning all sides (no need to season inside the cavity this time). Using your fingers, lightly press the herbs into the chicken. Don't worry if some fall off and onto the roasting pan; they will season the onions too. Place the chicken breast-side up on top of the bed of onions. Stuff the cavity with the lemon, garlic and fresh herbs, using a piece of lemon as a "door" to shut the cavity hole and enabling the garlic and herbs to steam inside. Place the chicken uncovered in oven.

Roast at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. This will enable the chicken to achieve a nice golden brown color right away and seal in the juices. Without opening the oven door, reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting another 45 min - hour and half or until chicken is golden brown and when you pierce it the juices run clear.**

About halfway through the cooking process you'll want to move the onion pieces around so they don't burn on one side. No need to remove the entire chicken - just reposition the onion pieces a little and turn them over if you see them starting to burn.

Let chicken stand 5 minutes before cutting so juices can redistribute. Remove the onions and serve with the chicken or add to the salad.

Mesclun with Cherries, Roasted Onions and Pine Nuts
1 package mesclun
1 cup cherries, stems removed and pitted
1 portion roasted onions (from roasted chicken recipe)
2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp berry jam
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
goat cheese (optional)

Place the mesclun greens in a large bowl. Add cherries and onions (let the onions cool the 5 minutes while the chicken is resting before adding them to the greens).

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and jam. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Whisk vigorously until everything is combined and vinaigrette is emulsified (thickened). Drizzle on the salad and gently toss. Top with pine nuts and dollops of goat cheese if using. Serve immediately.

* You can finde herbs de provence at most grocery stores now. If you can't, then Williams-Sonoma carries a great blend. You can order it online here. If you still have trouble, you can make your own blend. Try equal parts of (all dried):
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • savory
  • lavender
  • fennel seeds
  • basil

It is of note that the original "herbes de provence" included only rosemary, thyme and savory and American manufacturers added the lavender, fennel and basil. Either way you want to do it, the combinations are wonderful and yield themselves nicely with chicken.

**When white meat is raw, the juices are red. When it's fully cooked, the juices are clear. It won't be clear like water, but you will see it's clear and not tinged with red or pink color. Cut into the thigh and main body area to check. You don't want to pierce the breast because then you'll compromise keeping it juicey. Conversely, you can insert a meat thermometer as well to check the doneness.

My Notes:
Yes the herbs de provence must be dried. When you're roasting and exposing the herbs to direct open heat, you need them to be dried or else they will burn. Fresh herbs have too much water in them and thus will crisp up and blacken within 30 minutes, leaving a bitter taste. It's ok to put fresh herbs inside the cavity because they are insulated by the body of the chicken.

Cooking time will depend on the size of your chicken. Standard sizes are 4-5 pounds found at the markets, but there is a movement now to use actually smaller 2 pound chickens. This will obviously feed less people so you might have to do 2 chickens if you use the 2 pounders.

I like using a fresh goat cheese for the salad. It's light, creamy, and offers a tangy bite that pairs perfectly with the sweet cherries and bright herbs and lemon of the chicken. My favorite goat is Montrachet.

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