I was recently involved in a Television program. Every time I used a phrase that was French, (as in the expression “A certain je ne sais quoi”), the director would stop me and ask me to translate whatever I was saying into English. He claimed that no one in America would understand a word I was saying. So I spoke English. But even there I got into trouble using certain words. Apparently, no one in America knows what a ‘cynosure’ is. Or ‘grommets’. Or ‘clerestory’. I once read that the New York Times is written for an 8th grade reading level. So why should I have been the least bit surprised that in Food and Wine magazine's February issue, they'd renamed Mario Batali’s classic recipe for Pollo Agrodolce "Sweet and Sour Chicken".
In fairness, the word means “sour” (agro) and “sweet” (dolce) so it certainly can be translated to “Sweet and Sour” chicken. But to me, all the Italian has been stripped away in the translation. Sweet and Sour Chicken sounds like something you’d get at a Chinese Take- Out. It has nothing to do with this wonderfully delicious dish with its flavor mix of orange juice, capers and vinegar.
|The Italianissimo Chef Batali|
Devotees of the peninsula will tell you that of all Italy, the most over the top expression of Italian culture is the island of Sicily. And “Agrodolce” is a Sicilian staple dating back to its days as an Arab outpost. Who better to bring us this wonderful meeting of the sweetness of sugar and the tang of red wine vinegar than Chef Mario Batali. Quintessentially Italian, Mario has never strayed from his roots or his early training in Italy. Every one of his restaurants from “Babbo” to “Il Posto” or, my personal favorite, his Pizza Parlor called “Otto” (for its address at the corner of 8th St. and 5th Avenue), has an full-on Italian name. His cookbooks, which he seems to pop out annually, are an entire library of "Molto's"--"Molto Italiano", “Molto Gusto" and the lastest "Molto Batali". I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought of Food & Wine’s translation of Agrodolce. In all likelihood, he just tell me just to shut up and eat. Not a bad suggestion considering how good this dish is and how easy it is to prepare.
Mario used a whole chicken for his dish. I opted for my favorite part of the chicken, the thigh. Much more forgiving than white meat in terms of cooking times, the thigh has much more flavor than the bland breast. But other than that I stuck to the Master’s Recipe completely. It’s one of those one dish wonders that takes all of 30 minutes to put together and then cooks another half hour. I served the dish on a bed of Pappardelle noodles. Coucous would bring the Arab roots of the dish to your table. The recipe is for four people and here it is:
1 large roaster chicken, 4 to 4 1/2 pounds or two Chicken thighs per person.
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
2 ribs celery, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch disks
6 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup light bodied red wine
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed of salt
1/4 cup sliced almonds
If using a whole chicken, cut it up into 8 pieces, rinse and pat dry. If using thighs, rinse under cold water and pat dry.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the chicken and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off the oil.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the sugar, wine, vinegar, orange juice, capers and almonds and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin side up. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 35 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a plate. Boil the pan sauce over high heat until thickened, about 3 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Return the chicken to the skillet until warmed through. Transfer to a plate, spoon the sauce on top and serve.