Friday, October 9, 2009

Cider-Braised Chicken with Cabbage and Bacon (Not Half Bad)

I've been having a hard time keeping up with all the great foods of this autumn which arrived about three weeks ago with a definitive gale. In one blustery weekend thoughts went from what to throw on the grill to what shall we put in the braising pot tonight? I made a chicken braised in cider and cream a few days ago, and I wanted to write about that, but I would have to make it again to have a real recipe to share. I'm doing this all the time, making up a dish at dinnertime, taking a few photos of it, thinking I'll remember what I did when I sit down to write about it a few days later, and inevitably, of course, I've forgotten important points because I didn't make detailed enough notes.

This dish, chicken in cider with cabbage and bacon, I threw together in the midst of making doughs and mixing up sourdough sponges for our market baking last night. And while making it I came up with a trick to help me remember what I was doing: I added most of the ingredients in "half" measures--half a leek, half an onion, half a cup cider, of stock, etc. I should be able to relate this in no more time than it took to make it, so here goes.

Preheat your oven to 275.

2 ounce chunk good slab bacon, cut into 1/2"-inch cubes
4 chicken thighs (skin on or off, according to taste)
salt and pepper

1/2 a small onion, sliced
1/2 a small carrot, cut in half the long way, then across into thin half-moons
1/2 a small leek, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/2 a small cabbage, cut into four wedges

In a dutch oven or deep-sided sauté pan that can go in the oven, slowly cook the bacon over low heat until most of the fat has rendered and the bacon is brown. Remove the bacon from the pan, pour the fat into a small dish and reserve. Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides, then add it to the pan, bring the heat to medium high and brown the chicken well on both sides, about five minutes each side.

Remove the chicken from the pan, and drain off any fat. Return a teaspoon of bacon fat to the pan, add the onion, carrot, and leek, and cook for about five minutes, until the vegetables have softened and just begun to brown.

1/2 cup apple cider
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup water
1 sprig sage

Deglaze the pan with the apple cider, then add the stock and water, the sage, and return the chicken to the pan. Add a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Bring it up to a boil, then cover the pan and place it in the oven. Cook for 40 minutes (check it after about 10 minutes to see that it's bubbling gently; if it's not, increase the heat to 300 and check again in another 10 minutes.)

After 40 minutes add the reserved bacon cubes to the pot and nestle the cabbage wedges in between the chicken pieces. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes.

Increase the oven heat to 375. Remove the cover from the pan, turn the cabbage wedges over, and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the cabbage is tender.

Serve the chicken and cabbage out into wide soup dishes. If the sauce seems thin, reduce it over high heat on your stovetop for a couple of minutes to desired thickness. Serve it forth. Taste for salt.

I was going to serve this with boiled potatoes, but Mary discovered some leftover spaetzle in the fridge, so we used that instead, briefly fried in a little butter. We drank an Austrian gruner veltliner, a crisp white with good body; an Alsatian riesling or pinot blanc would have been another good choice. Or a lighter red, a cabernet franc like a saumur, or a modest pinot noir. Or, indeed, a glass of honest hard cider.

Nothing hard about this dish, and by the time it has braised all that long while, the cider is completely integrated into the sauce--you'd be hard-pressed to tell there was cider in it, at all (I really didn't intend the pun, but I'll take it...).

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

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