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Etiquette question: if your chicken is not hot and not wholly cooked, what do you do?

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  • syb Nov 22, 2011 01:51 PM
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I had this experience tonight and would love feedback on what I should have done.

I should preface this by saying it was in a restaurant run by a local darling chef. Dinner for 2 was 105 euros.

My chicken arrived lukewarm and questionably cooked. It sat before me for a minute before my husband's fish arrived piping hot. When I cut into my chicken it was pink inside. When I put it in my mouth, it was tepid. The combination of temperature (I like hot food to be hot) and underdone poultry made the dish unappetizing to me. I couldn't keep eating it to be polite, I would have just left the chicken untouched. Not knowing the etiquette in Paris, I debated saying something. But then I decided to do what I would have done at home in NYC.

When the waiter walked by, I politely mentioned my food was tepid and that if possible, I'd like it to be warmed and cooked a bit more. He gave me a look as though I'd insulted his mother, took the plate to the kitchen without a word.

A few minutes later, the chef personally returned the plate to me with apologies and a smile. The chicken was piping hot, cooked through, and all was well. Or so I thought. The waiter (who was pleasant and engaging for the first half of the meal) refused to talk or look at me for the rest of the meal.

My questions to you:

- Are dishes ever sent back in Paris or did I violate French etiquette?

- What would you have done?

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  1. Had chicken at Septime tonight, breast. It was hot but was colored deep in the breast. Loved it, chickens in France are a different bird and what is colored is not usually undercooked. Tepid is another matter and would not be acceptable to me either. It is your money, if not what you want complain as you did, and screw the waiter's attitude.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

      What Deluca said.

      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        As DCM says chicken is different in France and thus you need to adjust your paradigm - what may be undercooked in the US may simply be a different type of bird in France. Cooking techniques may also be different so always good to check yourself and think before complaining. That said tepid is usual wrong for food that should be hot. We had another thread on this recently and I think I was one of the few expressing this point.

        Now complaining is interesting because I think there is a very different paradigm here. In US culture "the customer is always right" is very strong and the US service culture reflects that. In Europe I think it is a little bit more balanced with restaurants expecting customers to know what they are talking about before they complain and accept it when the restaurant pushes back to them and tells them different rather than simply accepting criticism or complaint.

        That doesn't mean the customer is always wrong or the restaurant is always correct, and it doesn't stop waiters having a bad attitude (but I think that is true anywhere and isn't unique to France).

        1. re: PhilD

          In her book La Seduction, the former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times talks of the different merchant/consumer culture in France compared to the US. As PhilD notes, here we might say "the customer is always right." In France, according to the author, the merchant will rarely admit to mistakes or apologize.

          Of course, these are gross generalizations with many exceptions. The chef in syd's restaurant is a good example. His attitude also suggests that syd was right to question the tepid chicken.

          I guess I would agree with what syd did. Of course, I've also challenged Parisian taxi drivers who have tried to overcharge me. This horrifies my French friends, who accept the occasional taxi ripoff as just part of daily life.

      2. If it was cooked "sous vide" it would most likely be pink and not hot. I actually prefer this.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Nancy S.

          Or if it had been brined...

        2. Even here in the U.S., free-range birds, cooked to the proper temp, can have pink juices at the joints.

          2 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca

            Does "free range," which often means nothing more than a full, packed hen house has one small door out that isn't locked, mean the bird's juices are pinker than other chickens? Isn't the pink simply from blood that hasn't been cooked?

            In any case, the OP said the chicken was pink, not that there were pink juices.

            1. re: RandyB

              My free range chickens are local and live outdoors during the day. I don't know if the pinkness is due to diet, or breed of chicken.

          2. The above posters have good points regarding to the different types of chickens but if you cannot eat tepid chicken and pink in the middle, ask politely to have the kitchen cook it more. It is not a matter that the 'customer is always right" because I've seen my Parisian friends occasionally send back food to recook because it is underdone to their liking. It is not an unreasonable request. I would rather have the waiter huff and puff (not all waiters will react that way) than starve because I can't eat the chicken that I am going to pay for.

            11 Replies
            1. re: PBSF

              Thanks to all for weighing in on my chicken conundrum. Indeed the chickens in France are different and have taste, which is why I ordered it several times while in Paris. This particular chicken was pink in a semi-translucent way, which is what made me think it was questionably cooked. I forgot to mention that the skin looked crispy, but was rubbery.

              When the chef brought it back it was cooked through, the skin was crispy and the temperature hot. I wonder if the kitchen cooks the chicken half way, then finishes them to order? Or maybe they fired it way before the fish and it was just left sitting...

              I don't send food back often but in this case, I felt right about it. Even though I shouldn't be concerned with the waiter's reaction, a server's attitude is part of the experience and it affected the tone of the meal.

              1. re: syb

                Too bad that the "not overcooking" concern has become an obsession and now you are served plainly undercooked white meats. Lately I had a plancha-ed suckling pig, at a trendy small restaurant that I shall not name, which was not only pink but just seared. I am of the mind that all pork should be cooked through. Undercooked is not only unsafe, it is also of no interest tastewise, and I feel the same about chicken. Veal is OK and I do eat veal tartare or carpaccio but I fail to see their interest compared to raw or underdone beef, duck or venison. I think dark meats are the ones that are really good raw. White meats do not develop their umami unless they're cooked, and the longer the better. They didn't make veal stock or chicken stock the base of French cooking for no reason.

                Now I like chicken to be moist and tender near the bone but that does not mean translucent, and I suggest that any translucent chicken or pork should be sent back to the kitchen. I wouldn't hesitate. It is not only a taste issue, it is a health issue, at least for chicken and regardless the quality.

                1. re: Ptipois

                  But Ptipois surely you would agree that the colors of a white meat isn't the best guide as to whether it is cooked. For meats like Pork pink can be fine, and better tasting for really top quality meat. The key is the temperature that it has reached and this is what denatures the proteins to make it nicer to eat and kills the bugs. At these temperatures meat can still be a little pink. I agree if it is translucent it isn't done but slightly pink on its own isn't a disaster and could be better than overlooked and dry it tough (which over cooking can do).

                  1. re: PhilD

                    No, I disagree that pink for pork can be fine (unless it has been saltpetred) and I never understood the fad, even with chefs that I respect. Pork develops its specific, comforting taste only with thorough, and if possible lengthy, cooking. Undercooked pork, whatever the quality, tastes like a piece of wet dishrag in the middle of otherwise tasty meat. And that includes fresh ibérico pig or farm-raised suckling pig.

                    I do not think the same of chicken which is good at moderate undoneness, as long as it is not cold and translucent. As for veal, I think it is OK to have it rare, but not as rare as beef.

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      I do agree, I really dislike certain meats that haven't reached that cooked point, for example I love rare lamb but not raw lamb. I do think it Is the same for pork, when I say pink I don't mean an uncooked pink, more of a pink blush, rather than pure white meat. But it is a fine line and if correct the flavour is superb and the meat stays juicy which is tricky for pork if roasted or grilled.

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        No, I disagree. I find a good cut of pork to be delectable when pink and juicy. If yours tastes anything like a piece of wet dishrag, I'd find a new source.

                  2. re: syb

                    It is difficult to speculate why your chicken was underdone. Most small restaurant kitchen is a crazy and hectic place. Both reasons that you gave are possibilities or could be a careless cook or maybe the chef has this idea that that chicken should be served underdone. Regardless, you did not commit any faux pas by politely sending it back. Waiter can have a bad day or just plain rude.

                    1. re: syb

                      I'd be sending it back too if I wasn't certain about it. Undercooked chicken is the number one reason for food poisoning, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone, let alone while on vacation in a different country. If it was beef or something else, I may feel differently about this, but not with chicken. See, I did this once, and was horribly, miserably sick for the last 4 days of a 7 day all inclusive vacation. Never, ever again. This is, to me, less of an etiquette question and more of a food safety issue. :)

                      1. re: freia

                        Not only that, but the bacterium which causes food poisoning which can be found in chicken can also trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome, an extremely serious illness.

                        1. re: freia

                          It ain't the chicken; it's the e-coli and/or salmonella. bad practices somewhere along the line. The big American poultry processing plants are hellish nightmares for both man and beast. A fine argument for a bigger USDA budget.

                          1. re: yummyummeatemup

                            Actually, it's Campylobacter jejunei, and it's common, not merely in poultry plants. You need a certain level of heat to kill it. This is not something to take a chance with.

                    2. 1. When in doubt, I ask instead of guessing and second-gussing the chef.
                      I would have asked the waitstaff to look at the degree of pinkness and asked if he thought it was ok, if it was meant that way.
                      2. When not in doubt, - such as when the doneness is not what I had specified, or when the chicken is obviously not cooked enough and the meat is not only freshly pink but feels excessively sticky to the knife, - I do send it back.
                      3. Sending back food by itself does not violate any etiquette. But, ok, call me star-struck or whatever, I would not send back food at a White House state dinner, for example.
                      4. In your case, we cannot guess why the waiter behaved the way he did. Since the chef has apologized and remedied the problem, the chef obviously thought you were right. I would not have looked for further offense. The problem seems to be much less complicated than you imagine.

                      This reminds me of an issue I have from time to time: I too was brought up to venerate piping-hot dishes. In my life I have sent back enough non-hot dishes back to the kitchen to earn me a place in restaurant waitstaff hell for a couple of reincarnations.
                      For example, for me, soup, except when it is specified as cold soup, should be hot, not nearly hot, not tepid. Not-hot-enough soup is an original sin and goes back to the kitchen pronto, - and I have never seen a waiter or chef who upholds hot soup served cold.
                      But I have noticed that certain dishes - especially in the modern bistros - are served - and meant to be served - between tepid and truly hot. Usually it is delicate seafood dishes which the chef deems too delicate to cook through. Done is too done, if you will.
                      Still, a well-trained staff should remind diners that a dish ordered is served not hot-hot, if such is not specified on the menu.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: Parigi

                        "3. Sending back food by itself does not violate any etiquette. But, ok, call me star-struck or whatever, I would not send back food at a White House state dinner, for example."

                        Aaah the things you wouldn't do to look your best in front of Nicolas... ;)

                        1. re: Rio Yeti

                          Now that is cruel !

                          1. re: Parigi

                            A while back, for professional reasons, I found myself in a posh restaurant in the provinces for a formal dinner with the town mayor and a sous-prefet of the department.

                            The amuse bouche was a singular shrimp served, I thought, on a hefty hillock of rice. I put the whole thing in my mouth. The "rice" turned out to be kosher salt. In the stuffy circumstances I couldn't spit the thing out and had to swallow.

                            I couldn't taste anything else we were served and spent the rest of the meal pouring gallons of water down my throat.

                            1. re: vielleanglaise

                              Your dopplegänger, in a contract-signing celebratory banquet in a posh restaurant in Guangzhou, dipped his fingers in the fingerbowl, only to be told by his interpretor - me - in a tearful whisper that it was the soup that the rest of the table was waiting for him to take the first sip of before they could start.

                              1. re: Parigi

                                Haha great anecdotes vielleanglaise and Parigi !

                              2. re: vielleanglaise

                                My story: dipping the breast of lamb in the spice mix, only to find it was the plate of sand that the candle had been placed in. The waiter had recently removed the said candle to relight it.....it added a certain texture....!

                                1. re: vielleanglaise

                                  What kind of a province is this which serves shrimp in such a way? Recently cities have been bombed for less than that.

                              3. re: Rio Yeti

                                Ow. I wouldn't have dared!

                              4. re: Parigi

                                Good advice.

                                1. re: Parigi

                                  See, I think there's a difference between sending food back that you'll be paying for, and sending food back if you're a guest.
                                  As a guest, I wouldn't tell the host unless there was an absolute problem with what was being served, and it would be said quietly as an aside. Normally I would either choke it down with a smiling happy face or push it around on my plate a bit after making a supreme effort. I recall having poached salmon at a friend's house, and it wasn't poached fully, just the outside and ends were done. As in, it was raw in the middle, which was where DH and I were served from. As in, my DH who knows and loves salmon, from smoked to rare, was put off by it. Another guest actually said "boy, Lucy, do you think that fish is cooked?" and she said "well, it IS done the FRENCH way, so of COURSE it is cooked". It wasn't, trust me. I ate what I could with a smiling happy face.
                                  In a restaurant, where I'm facing a bill, I won't eat something that doesn't seem done to me because I don't want to get sick. And it isn't like ...oh my steak is more medium than rare. It's more like "this chicken is raw".
                                  To me, being polite isn't worth getting sick over, and I really don't enjoy having to pay for that particular pleasure...
                                  :)

                                2. I think the best thing to do is to understand the culture in which you eat. When you sent back the bird, sent the chef the message that you can't appreciate his work. This is not a sin; just a statement. And in my mind, when you go to a restaurant, you're there to gratify yourself; not to conform to other people's expectations. I've traveled and eaten in Japan a lot, and have come to really enjoy the native (read "raw") taste of many things that horrify my American friends. For example, on my last trip I discovered that I prefer barely seared pork liver to that which has been cooked through. And that pork ovaries aren't bad, either. A day later, I went to a chicken-only yakitori restaurant, where I had raw chicken breast for the first time.Weird stuff to most of us. I must admit I approached it with some trepidation, and it was wonderful! The other Americans in the group politely refused it. Now, France is not quite as "extreme" as that. The last time I ate at La Regalade, I had a mallard duck that was positively orgasmic. Cooked, mostly. When I was done, there was a delightfully tasty thin syrup of blood in the bottom of my plate. Needless to say, served here in Baltimore, it would have been sent back to the kitchen in horror.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: yummyummeatemup

                                    In France, undercooked chicken is seen as a health risk, just as it is in many other places. By sending it back, you are only pointing out that some attention to detail was lacking, as this plate was not cooked as it should have been.

                                    Rare duck is something completely different.

                                    I had to send back a squab I was served in London -- it wasn't just undercooked, it was seared on the outside, and lying on the plate in a bleeding, gelatinous, and room-temperature mass on the plate -- it wasn't rare, it was grossly undercooked and just this side of raw. Knowing that European birds can sometimes be pinkish, I even touched it with a finger -- room temperature -- not even warm.

                                    The waiter told me that it was supposed to be that way -- and my boss's reply was "like hell -- the damned thing is still breathing!" (it wasn't a huge exaggeration)

                                    The chef came out to argue, until I stood up so he could see my very pregnant belly -- at which point he clammed up, took my plate to the kitchen, and returned a few minutes later with beautifully-grilled squab on a clean plate.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      I assume the Squab you ate was Pidgeon not chicken - that is what squab is in the UK and I thought other countries. Like all game birds it is usually served rare and often bloody that is th way it is. Sounds like it may have been an extreme example though - which is not uncommon these days especially with smaller birds like Woodcock. My understanding for this being OK is that game birds are not "factory farmed" so less prone to harbouring bacteria.

                                      But in this example why did you order a game bird if pregnant? I assume they should be avoided like raw eggs, unpasteurised cheese etc. i think th chef was both correct to argue and correct to re-cook the bird, but he was probably shaking his head in wonder that you took the risk in ordering it in the first pace.

                                      1. re: PhilD

                                        Indeed the game we have had in France are always served not pink but burgundy red, gelatinous and bloody. Every time we had it chez L'Ami Jean we had to make certain the blood did not run off the narrow table onto our lap. It was delicious and one wouldn't want it served any other way. And I wonder if a chef like Jégo would have agreed to have his dishes sabotaged and overcooked.

                                        1. re: PhilD

                                          game birds in Europe and the UK are typically farm-raised (for commercial use -- supply and demand, etc., etc.)

                                          I had asked them to please cook it more than usual, as I was pregnant - so I acknowledged that yes, I know it's usually served rare -- but this wasn't just quite rare -- it was raw. Big difference.

                                          And this was long enough ago that undercooked meat was the only warning for pregnant women...they hadn't extended it out to half the edible universe at that point.

                                          It wasn't overcooked when it was finally served...it was still moist and pinkish in the middle...I didn't ask anyone to cook the sh*t out of it...there's a lot of ground between cooking the snot out of something and serving a bird suffering a first degree burn on its raw little body....it is possible to cook something well somewhere along that spectrum.

                                    2. SVB
                                      I know it's not natural for an American (are u American?) to impose one's self in a restaurant, but believe me, the best way to gaining respect is NOT being embarassed or uncertain in what it is you want.
                                      Your chicken was clearly undercooked which, even for me who likes all sorts of meats "undercooked", is just not right.
                                      You're the boss in a restaurant. And by that I mean you have to show that you know what you want and, as long as it's not an outrageous demand (but even then...), you are absolutely in your right to request whatever you want.
                                      The key is confidence. If you show hesitation...uncertainty...embarassement...etc. the waitstaff will "eat you alive" and definitely take advantage of that weakness.
                                      A good metaphore for someone who lives in New York is crossing the street in NY :
                                      rule n°1 : never show fear
                                      rule n°2 : never run while crossing the street unless absolutely necessary (ie you'll become a statistic if you don't)
                                      It's all about confidence. Well, it's the same thing in a Paris bistro.

                                      "Undercooked" is a sliding scale depending if you are in an American restaurant or a French restaurant. Chicken, porc, veal, etc should never be "bloody" (ie you shouldn't see red blood in any of those meats when brought to the table) whether you are in France or the US. However, "pink" is another matter (from what I understand that was not the case here). Therein lies all the subtlety of cooking the above-mentioned meats. They are quick to become stringy and dry if overcooked and believe me a well-cooked (ie pink) piece of porc or chicken or veal is absolutely stunning. The moist, juicy flavour when done just right is sublime.
                                      By the way, one of the reasons that a piece of chicken arrives undercooked (unfortunately this is happening more and more) is because the chicken was frozen when they started cooking it and therefore the exterior grilled well but the interior didn't have time to thaw/cook. That said, I prefer to be confronted with an undercooked chicken (which I can send back to finish the cooking) than with an overcooked chicken...
                                      So just send it back, have another glass of wine while you wait and pay no attention to a waiter's bad mood.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: montmirail

                                        If we are talking about a Bresse chicken, or bird of similar quality, then I can see the relevance of this discussion, otherwise, just forget about it. Fresh French chicken is superior to US "free range" chicken, but only barely. Certainly not worth a major health risk. Just walk away.

                                        1. re: Oakglen

                                          What else does not apply is how a New Yorker's confidence is relevant to how one conducts "one's self" in a bistro.