Braised food

A French-inspired braised chicken for every fall table

Grapes reign supreme in French alcohol, whether fermented into the nation’s legendary wines or distilled into cognac or armagnac. But beverages that contain apples at their core are just as deserving of our love and attention.

For the best examples, look to Normandy, in the northwest of the country. The region’s crisp, funky ciders offer complex session ability, while the distilled and aged counterpart, Calvados, shares the fruitiness of Cognac but arguably lands more vibrant on the palate.

As is usually the case in France, these drinks have made their way into a classic local dish: Vallée d’Auge chicken. Think of it as Normandy’s answer to coq au vin or beef bourguignon. Simple and hearty braised, the chicken dish gives the starring role to the apple, with the fruit included in the fresh, cider and Calvados forms. The preparation has the added benefit of drama, with the spirit flambé when added to the pan to form the base of the sauce.

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To further emphasize the presence of cider and Calvados, some adjustments can be made to the traditional preparation of the dish. Many recipes contain fillings similar to the aforementioned coq au vin and beef bourguignon, such as lardons with bacon and mushrooms. While undeniably delicious, these ingredients can distract from the dish and distract from the clean, fruity flavors of liqueur and cider.

Replacing celery and fennel makes up for the loss of two flavorful ingredients and, one might reason, aligns more with the profile of apples. And finishing with a sprinkle of fresh sage brings it all together and offers the culinary equivalent of turning the leaves falling from autumn trees.

Recipe Chicken with Calvados and Cider

For 4 to 6 people

Ingredients:

  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • ¼ head celery, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges each
  • 1 pound apples, cored and cut into 12 wedges each
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup calvados
  • 2 ½ cups French cider, preferably from Normandy
  • ¼ cup fresh cream
  • 3 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken on both sides and remove when browned and crispy.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add another two tablespoons of oil. Add the onions, celery, fennel and apples and sauté for 10 minutes until soft. Stir occasionally to avoid burning or sticking. Add the garlic and sauté another minute.
  4. In a separate saucepan, gently heat the Calvados over medium heat. Carefully light the liquor with a long match and make sure nothing nearby is flammable. Cook until the flame dies down, then pour into the pan with the vegetables. Again, be careful here as the Calvados could reignite if not all the alcohol was initially burned off.
  5. Add the cider to the saucepan containing the vegetables and the Calvados and boil over medium heat until the liquid has reduced by half.
  6. Add the chicken to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover with a lid and cook for 35-40 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure the liquid is simmering and no vegetables have caught the bottom of the pan.
  7. When the chicken is cooked through and tender to the bone, remove it with tongs and set aside.
  8. Using a slotted spoon, transfer all the vegetables to a warm serving platter. Place the chicken on it.
  9. Add the crème fraîche to the braising liquid and bring to a boil. If the sauce has not reached a light and creamy consistency, increase the heat and boil for a few minutes.
  10. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add the finely chopped sage. Pour over chicken and vegetables.
  11. Serve with fresh crusty bread or boiled new potatoes.