Picnic Sandwiches: French Edition

Preparing for the 4th of July in Seattle usually means making sure your raincoat is still waterproof and looking into putting a tarp up for your BBQ attendees to stand under while they inhale the intoxicating smoke from your grill. Every third year or so it’s actually nice on the holiday itself, but usually it doesn’t start warming up significantly until the 5th or later.

You don’t have to take my word for it though. Here is an actual weather forecast for Seattle, current as of this morning.

In other words, roasting a chicken for dinner is still a totally viable option right up through the first month of summer.

This is great news for people who like picnics, because cold chicken makes excellent picnic food. And, unless you’re feeding a huge family, you will probably have some chicken leftover to turn into a baguette sandwich that even the most jaded French picnicker would be glad to indulge in. Especially if it’s a fancy picnic held on a holiday.

When we had left La Rochelle and were in Saint Simeux, where the chateau my uncle was living in with friends was located, we realized how ridiculously hot it was. We had been spoiled by the cool breezes blowing off the Atlantic, and now were being inundated with weather at least 15-20 degrees hotter than it would have been back home at that time of year.

It inspired us to dine al fresco more often than not–taking meals in any shady spot we could find, dining late into the evening as the stifling air became more and more bearable. Aided of course by lots of pineau, produced by the owner of the vineyards nextdoor, chilled to perfection so that beads of condensation would roll lazily down the sides of your glass between sips.

I can remember roasting a chicken at least once while we were there–even in the tremendous heat. For us it didn’t go as far–there were 6 adults dining that evening, so one was just enough. The dogs probably nibbled the leftovers, and we didn’t get to have any sandwiches the next day.

Now though, I love nothing better than a hearty baguette stuffed to overflowing with creamy, savory sandwich fillings. Summer is the best time for things like that, so I’ve been practicing for when the good weather does show up.

If you are lucky enough to be somewhere that’s got sunshine and you’d rather not turn on the oven, then by all means save this recipe for a cooler day and make your fancy pants Fourth of July (or Bastille Day…) chicken sandwiches from chicken that has been cooked a different way. What really matters is that you all your ingredients are excellent quality. You will never regret buying the best baguette you can find for the express purpose of making simple sandwiches.

You should probably also make sure your picnic basket if full of wine and delicious pickles, olives and assorted other savory snacks. Maybe some fancy pastries or a nice tart to have alongside the chilled tea you’ll serve after the meal, and after the requisite relaxing and gossiping have happened. That is the only way to picnic after all.

I’m a huge fan of thyme and grapefruit together. The floral notes of a freshly picked sprig of thyme are such an incredible complement to the sweet tart juice from a squeeze of grapefruit, and both are excellent foils for the empty flavor palette that is a whole chicken.

For the sandwiches themselves, all you need to do is shred or cut the chilled chicken into small pieces and mix in your favorite chicken salad accompaniments. I kept it simple with a touch a mayonnaise, lots of black pepper, and more fresh thyme. A little celery goes a long way to add a bit of crunch, but really the possibilities are endless.

With the addition of a piece of garden fresh lettuce, you really don’t need much else to make an incredibly satisfying sandwich. If you want to change it up completely though, just swap the whole thing out for a sandwich of soft goat cheese with a few pistachios tucked in, the whole thing drizzled with honey before being sealed up and placed into the basket.

And if your picnic basket never makes it further than the living room due to inclement weather, so be it.

Grapefruit and Thyme Roasted Chicken

4 1/2-5 lb. chicken, rinsed well and patted dry
1 good sized bunch fresh thyme (about 1/2 a little box if you buy it from the supermarket)
1/2 large pink grapefruit
olive oil or margarine (This makes it kosher–feel free to use butter if that’s not a problem for you.)
salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder

Preheat your oven to 400 F, with a rack about 1/3 of the way from the bottom. Make sure you have enough room above it for the chicken to slide in without hitting another rack.

Place the chicken in your roasting dish and coat it liberally with olive oil or margarine, pulling up the skin to get your fat underneath as well. Give a good squeeze of the grapefruit and then start adding the spices. Sprinkle a good pinch of salt (skip this if your chicken is a kosher one) over the top and bottom of the bird, and sprinkle the paprika and garlic powder over. Rub the chicken all over (under the skin too) to coat. Tear off the leaves from most of the stems of thyme and spread those around too. Add the rest of the thyme along with the squeezed grapefruit to the cavity of the bird. Add any vegetable you’d like to roast along side, and kind of toss them around to coat them in the residual oil.

Roast until the thermometer registers 165, about an hour, depending on the size of your bird. If you dont’ have a thermometer, cut into the meat: the juices should run clear, and the joints should be easy to move. Allow to rest , tented with foil, for 15 or so minutes before cutting into it. This is a great time to make pan sauce if you’re so inclined–just crank up the heat on a skillet and whisk a bit of flour into about 1/4 cup of drippings to make a paste, then slowly slowly add more liquid while whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Heat to a boil and let it reduce if necessary until it reaches a consistency you’re happy with.

If you aren’t planning on eating the chicken hot for dinner, and are instead roasting it only for sandwiches, you can skip the pan sauce and put the whole thing straight into the fridge once you’ve cut it into pieces to allow it to cool faster. The veggies will be optional but they make an excellent companion to a cold sandwich so I recommend you don’t skip them if you can help it.

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