Since a girl has to eat and there are no Thanksgiving leftovers to heat up, what is one to do? Cook a chicken. There is nothing better than a chicken that has been cooked Bistro style, with some variation on a country French classic. We are out-of-town this weekend and that always presents a grocery store dilemma. I can never be sure what ingredients will be available at the local market. That is the great thing about so many French dishes. The ingredients and simple and easy to find. Who doesn’t have an onion or a carrot lying around?
We have all had wonderful chicken dishes, expertly prepared at restaurants and have wondered what they did to get such a moist bird. Well, I can tell you. They probably made a huge, greasy mess in their kitchen! That have more than likely braised the chicken pieces at a medium high temperature in either butter, oil or a mixture of the two. This makes for a big mess, so if you do not like cleaning your kitchen or do not have fairies that come and clean behind you, then you might want to opt to go back to that restaurant. (Hint – To minimize the mess and make clean-up quicker and easier I put aluminum foil around the stove and countertop area. It may not be the cheapest way to prevent a mess, but it sure does help.) So, if you can deal with the clean-up, there is nothing more rewarding than a braised chicken in a wonderful sauce.
The secret to cooking the chicken is to leave it alone! Don’t keep peeking or moving it around. Start with the skin side down. When the skin is perfectly browned, the skin should easily come up from the pan. You want to make sure to leave it alone until it properly browns. Then turn it over to brown on the underside. A mixture of olive oil and butter is my preferred source of fat. You get the higher burning point of the oil combined with the taste of the butter (unsalted, of course).
The next secret is the layering of flavors in your sauce. Depending on your recipe, you will remove the chicken from the pan as well as some fat and then begin sautéing vegetables. Once they are soft and browned, you will add some wine or other type of alcohol and chicken broth. Return the chicken to the pan, cover and cook until done. (This process is almost like steaming, therefore, keeping the chicken moist). You may want to check on the wings and breast pieces earlier since they may cook quicker than the dark meat pieces. Finally, reduce the sauce (being sure to scrape up all the yummy brown bits), and then finish with a knob of butter or cream.
There is definitely a pattern to cooking these great dishes. Once you master it, you can cook most any chicken or meat dish this way. I say suck it up and make the mess. You will be glad you did.
Here is the recipe that I used to make my dinner last evening. It was very similar to many of the dishes that we had while in Provence and the south of France. Be sure to use the best chicken you can find (I like Ashley Farms or Springer Mountain, but any organic or free-range chicken should do fine). I have found that regular, less expensive chickens are not nearly as tender. Save them for making chicken broth.
Classic French Chicken in White Wine Sauce
2 Tbs. butter
4-lb. chicken, cut into 6 pieces (or 3-1/2 to 4 lb. chicken pieces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 rib celery, finely chopped
2 oz. prosciutto or country ham, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup homemade or low-salt canned chicken stock
3 Tbs. heavy cream (at room temperature)
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook it in the skillet on the skin side to brown it and to render the fat from the skin, about 15 min. Turn the chicken over and cook on the bone side for about 5 min. Remove and reserve the chicken.
Pour off all but 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pan. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and prosciutto or ham and sauté until the onion is browned and the vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 min. Add the wine and chicken stock to the pan and stir to combine with vegetables. Put the chicken back into the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the skillet with a lid, and simmer the chicken in the sauce until cooked through, 20 to 25 min.
Remove the chicken from the pan, turn the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the volume of liquid by half, about 5 min. (or 6 to 7 min. if you want a thicker sauce). Add the cream, stir to combine, and remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the chicken to wide soup plates; taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper if necessary and spoon it over the chicken. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
Original Recipe is from Fine Cooking. The only change I made was to cut the chicken into 8 pieces which makes it easier to cook and to serve. I did use prosciutto rather than bacon as I already had some in the fridge. I used a white Burgundy in the sauce.
I served the chicken with a couscous prepared with sautéed shallots, chicken broth, toasted almonds, cumin and currants and complimented it with a Pinot Noir, but you could also serve it with a white Burgundy or Pinot Gris.