Food & Drink
Chicken in cider: A blazing French braise
French cuisine is talked about as if it were a monolithic entity, but the French see it differently, said Francis Lam in The New York Times. The various regions of France take pride in their local specialties; those dishes “belong to places and they belong to people.” Recently, I enjoyed dinner in Brooklyn with several French expatriates, and when the hostess set alight a pan of Calvados, or apple brandy, we were instantly transported to Normandy. The evening’s one Norman guest had a simple name for the dish: chicken in cider. But every other expat knew it as poulet à la normande, or “chicken in the style of Normandy.”
At heart, poulet à la normande is a simple braise that brings together the flavors of apples, chicken, cream, and yeasty hard cider. It’s great with a salad and crusty bread. But making it the traditional way requires bravery, because when you ignite the Calvados and pour the blazing liquid onto the chicken, you’re “literally playing with fire.” The flame can shoot over 2 feet high—“so be careful.”
Recipe of the week
Poulet à la normande
1 chicken, 3 to 4 lbs, cut into 8 bone-in pieces
3 tbsp olive oil, duck fat, or chicken fat
½ cup Calvados or cognac
1¼ cups hard cider, preferably a yeasty French one
15 pearl onions, peeled (frozen is fine)
1½ lbs H oneycrisp apples
2 tbsp cornstarch
5 tbsp crème fraîche or sour cream
Pat chicken very dry with paper towels, and season well with salt and pepper. Heat fat in large Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium high until shimmering. Brown chicken pieces, in batches if necessary, skin side down until deep golden, 6 to 8 minutes then flip, and sear other side until golden, another 3 minutes.
If flambéing: Make sure there is nothing flammable near or above stove. Warm brandy in a saucepan over medium heat. When chicken is well browned, protect your hand, use a long match to light the liquor on fire, then carefully pour it into chicken pan. Cook until flame subsides. (If not flambéing: Once chicken is browned, turn off heat and add Calvados. When sizzling subsides, turn heat to medium low, bring liquid to simmer, and cook 4 minutes to evaporate alcohol.)
Add cider and onions. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a very gentle simmer. Quickly peel and core apples, cut into 1½-inch chunks, and place on top of chicken. Cover pan and cook, checking occasionally to ensure liquid is maintaining a gentle simmer, until chicken is just cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes.
Remove chicken, onions, and apples to a platter and cover them. Make slurry with cornstarch and 3 tbsp cold water, stir into braising liquid, and bring to simmer until thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in crème fraîche; season sauce with salt to taste. Replace chicken, onions, and apples in sauce. Serves 4.