So I cooked I first learned about Chicken à la Providence yesterday. It’s pretty damn tasty.
My Colleague is out of town for a night or two and took Test Subject V with her, so I’m left to my own devices. Gloriously so. Any period of time to myself is such a luxury in these, our plague days, so I’m spending my time doing housework, grading, and cooking.
This might not sound like a relaxing respite, but believe me, it is.
Before My Colleague left, I asked her to get me a whole roaster chicken from Market Basket. (Since COVID, she’s taken over grocery shopping duty, much to both our frustration. She hates grocery shopping and I love it.) I didn’t know what I wanted to make, but I knew that with a whole chicken and what was on hand in the house, I could make something that would make several dinner’s worth of food.
I was reading through the poultry section of the Fanny Farmer 1896 Cookbook looking for inspiration. I stumbled onto that recipe. The name caught my attention because of its connection to New England. And it fascinated me because I’d never heard of it. After reading the recipe, I decided to look up some other recipes and figure out what I wanted to make from there.
Googling around, I was surprised at how few recipes can be found for the dish online. One website included several recipes, mostly historical. It even had the Fanny Farmer recipe that led me to look for the recipe in the first place. I was even more interested in was this recipe on Lt. Dan’s Kitchen that is adapted from the 1966 Woman’s Day Encyclopedia. Over the sixty years between, the dish had taken a decided turn for the more complex, but the tweaks all seemed like they would imbue so much more flavor.
The lemon chicken gravy had the addition of lemon, there was a bit more seasoning, some extra ingredients, and most fascinating to me, the process of boiling then browning the chicken. (Predictably, because I basically live for the Maillard reaction.)
There was also bacon, and bacon is always a nice plus. We didn’t have any, but I could walk to the closest deli and ask for three strips.
I was actually relatively faithful to the recipe, with a few exceptions. One exception is that I didn’t have peas or carrots, but I had a frozen bag of “mixed vegetables” from Market Basket, so I used those instead. And then, the biggest other difference– white wine.
When I went to get the bacon, I also grabbed a cheap bottle of pinot grigio. I boiled the chicken in water and pinot instead of broth, letting the chicken imbue its own flavor. (And then, following Fanny’s recipe, I boiled it all to heck and reduced it significantly.) And when I went to add the veggies later on, I deglazed the pan in far more wine than necessarily.
I was shocked, when it came out of the oven, at just how rich and flavorful this dish is. It’s interesting, when you look at early 20th century American cookery, especially in New England, there’s not a lot of spices or herbs… It often strikes me, reading recipes from that period, that they seem kind of bland. And sometimes they are.
But it seems to me, looking at the food trends between the sixties and now, that Americans for a variety of reasons made a move toward more herbs and spices, and a more global selection of flavors, at the same time that they moved away from valuing richness as a quality in food.
This is incredibly rich. It’s the richest thing I’ve tasted in a long, long time. You are going to want to reduce your portion size. But it’s a heck of a meal.
Like most of my favorite foods, it tastes a hell of a lot better than it photographs.
It’s also simple but painstaking. This is not a weeknight meal. It’s definitely comfort food, but it’s something you have for Sunday dinner. I made it over two days, boiling the chicken and reducing the broth one day, and then refrigerating them overnight, before boning and browning the chicken and cooking the veggies and making the gravy the next day.
I’d recommend this to anyone who tries to make this, because a) chunking time is nice, and b) it’s so much easier to debone a cold, cooked bird than it is to endure the maddening wait for it to cool. (Also, cooling time is so unpredictable, so difficult to factor into getting dinner on the table at a specific time.)
I am curious about the connection to Providence, and the history of this dish. I might have to do a little more research.