Die hard fans - I mean REALLY die hard fans - of Britcoms will recognize this dish as an obscure single-line reference from the 1987 "Nob and Nobility" episode of the classic series, Blackadder. In it, the show pokes fun at the legend of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a popular fictional story about a rich nobleman who decides to don a disguise and uses his money and skills to effect daring rescues of disenfranchised nobles from the clutches of the French Revolution under the pseudonym 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'.
Sound familiar? A regular rich guy who wears disguises and uses pure skill to pursue the cause of his own vigilante form of justice? That's because this story was one of the main influences for the development of the Batman mythology. The original book, published in 1905, was wildly popular with a society that had finally come to terms with the violence and anarchy of the French Revolution, despite the book's clear pro-nobility stance.
As only the supremely educated British comedy writer can, the story is cleverly parodied in the episode, and is presented as seen through the eyes of the butler Edmund. Upon visiting his favorite pie shop, he's disgusted to find that Pimpernel-inspired Francophilia has taken over London and instead of Shepherd's Pie, is offered only a selection of pretentiously French dishes by the somewhat-less-than-upper-class proprietor, Mrs. Miggins.
"Today's hot choice is Chicken Pimpernel in a Scarlet Sauce, Scarlet Chicken in a Pimpernel Sauce, or Huge Suspicious Looking Sausages*. In a Scarlet Pimpernel Sauce."
Blackadder doesn't have a ton of food references, and it's absolutely one of our favorite - and most quotable - TV series ever produced, so this seemed to be a good place to start.
The humble Scarlet Pimpernel, image courtesy of Wikipedia
I started (as always) by researching the main ingredients of the recipe and found that the Scarlet Pimpernel is a common roadside flower that grows extensively in Europe. The pimpernel family also includes an edible herb known to us Americans as Salad Burnet. Serendipitously, Salad Burnet is one of the main ingredients in the modern Frankfurt Green Sauce, a popular mixed herb sauce that dates back to the middle ages in one variant or another.
Clockwise from Top: Tarragon, Chervil, Chives, Tarragon, Parsley, Cress
The sauce is basically a puree of fresh green herbs, lemon and sour cream or yoghurt. Since German field herbs don't grow so readily in US supermarkets, I thought it would be a good idea if I modified the recipe to used herbs and substitutions that could easily be purchased in your local grocery store.
For the Scarlet Chicken, we had a couple of options. I leaned heavily on Gwen for this one, as she's got a Medieval History degree and knows everything about everything when you're talking historic food.
According to her, Red spices like paprika and sumac would have been common in England during the late 1700's and used extensively to spice and flavor dishes. Citrus would have been easily imported from France or Spain (though French lemons would have been an unlikely commodity during the revolution itself, due to interrupted trade). Chickens would probably have been smaller, due to the lack of advances in genetic science during the time, so a modern GMO cornish game hen makes a nice substitute.
We never got the poultry to that bright red that you see in Tandoori cuisine (incidentally, Tandoori red is food coloring), but the bird did turn a rich toasty ruddy caramel color, loaded with flavor and smelled absolutely scrumptious while it was cooking. However, they evidently liked food colored with livid hues in the olden days, so feel free to liven the meat up with some beet juice if it suits your fancy.
Using generous amounts of smoked instead of sweet paprika made the hen smell and taste just like bacon. OMG. Bacon flavored Chicken? SIGN ME UP. The idea was to make a really french dish, but... BACON! It's close enough.
Combine in a blender:
1 C Sour Cream
1/2 C Heavy Cream
1 Tbl Chopped Fresh Chives
1/4 C Chopped Fresh Dill
1/4 C Chopped Fresh Chervil
1/4 C Chopped Fresh Tarragon
1/4 C Chopped Fresh Parsley
1/2 C Chopped Fresh Upland Cress (sub with 1/4 C Watercress)
1 C Chopped Fresh Salad Burnet (Sub with Cucumber and decrease cream to 1/4 C)
Juice and Grated Rind of 1/2 Lemon
2 tsp Salt
Blend until smooth and creamy. Adjust the herbs and salt to taste. Let the sauce rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, up to 24 hours.
Dissolve into 3 Qt water:
1/4 C Salt
1/4 C Brown Sugar
1/4 C Apple Cider Vinegar
Wash and remove giblets from
1 Cornish Game Hen
Brine for 2 hours
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
8 Cloves of Garlic
Using the flat of a knife, crush 2 of the cloves to bruise and soften them.
In a small bowl, mix together into a smooth paste:
3 Tbl Smoked Paprika
3 Tbl Dried Sumac
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 C Olive Oil
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
Peel and Slice into wedges:
Set a raised rack into an oven proof pan so that air can circulate underneath the bird.
Rub the hen inside and out with the crushed garlic.
Salt and Pepper the cavity of the bird and then stuff with the Apple and Onion Wedges and the whole garlic cloves.
Rub the paprika paste gently over the whole chicken (add a little more oil if it's too sticky)
Roast in oven at 450 for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 375 and Roast in for 30-45 additional minutes or until the juices run clear. (internal temp of 155).
You can serve the sauce on the bird or on the side, whatever your personal preference dictates. The sauce is fresh and creamy and balances the spicy/smokey richness of the poultry perfectly.
Bon Apetit, Monsieur! It's French!
*They're horse willies. No really, that's the joke. How prescient those writers were...