Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vinegar Braised Chicken and Onions or Poulet Saute au Vinaigre

Catherine de Medici
Mother of 3 French
       As far back as the 16th century, Lyon, not Paris, has been the gastronomical capital of France.  It was then that Catherine de Medici, the Queen Consort of King Henry II, an Italian noblewoman by birth, brought cooks from Florence to the French court.  They prepared dishes from the agricultural products from the various regions of France. This was revolutionary, combining the know-how of the Italian cooks with the unmatched produce of France.  The resulting regional dishes were elevated in status because they were, after all, what royalty and the nobility were eating.  The cuisine created in Lyon represented the crossroads of many regional specialties.  A terrific variety of ingredients were available: summer vegetables from farms in Bresse—to say nothing of its famous chickens—and neighboring Charolais, game from the Dombes, fish from lakes in Savoy, spring’s first fruits and vegetables from Drome and Ardeche and of course, the wines of Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley. 
No matter where you travel in
France, you will find Restaurants
aux Lyonnais, serving the
regional cuisine that's made Lyon
The Lyonnaise tradition of great food continued into the nineteenth century, when middle class women, called “Les Meres Lyonnaise” (Lyonnaise Mothers) took up work as cooks and created a whole vocabulary of new culinary discoveries – all of which incorporated their regional roots. In 1935, France’s pre-eminent food critic, Curonsky, called Lyon “the world capital of gastronomy.”  To this day, the city has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita in France and it’s well worth a visit.  Dishes like “Poulet Braise au Vinaigre” or Vinegar Braised Chicken and Onions, could not be more Lyonnais.  In fact, “Sauce Lyonnais”, one the backbones of the French saucier’s art, consists of white wine, onions, vinegar and small bits of meat—usually leftovers.  While this recipe adds golden raisins and uses both Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegars, it's heart is still firmly planted in Lyon.  It's wonderful, budget-friendly comfort food.  You can use whatever chicken parts appeal to you.  As a dark meat lover, I used only drumsticks and thighs.  You could easily swap out these out for cut-up breasts or a mixture of white and dark meat.  The onions I used were those already peeled and ready to go pearl onions from the frozen food section. They save a great deal of time.  And the pancetta “Cubette”,  already diced pancetta, are ideal and another labor saver. At Trader Joe’s, they are particularly well-priced.  Here’s what to look for. 

This is not a particularly time-consuming meal. The real effort here involves getting a really good browning on the chicken.  I was dealing with a rather small Dutch oven so there were more batches to be browned that if I’d used my bigger Dutch oven.  After that it’s just a matter of a gentle simmer on the stove for 35 to 45 minutes. By the way, you can easily half the recipe and still get perfect results.  Here’s the recipe:

Recipe for Vinegar Braised Chicken and Onions
Or Poulet Saute au Vinaigre
6 Servings. About 1.5 hours start to finish.
 2 pounds cipolline or pearl onions
         Kosher salt
         3 tablespoons olive oil
         8 ounces pancetta (Italian bacon), cut into 1/4-inch pieces
         4 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
         5 pounds skin-on bone-in chicken pieces (breasts,  thighs,and/or legs; breasts halved crosswise)
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 bay leaves
         Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add pancetta to pot
         and cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and pancetta is brown, 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a large bowl.

         Add onions to same pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes.
         Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
        Transfer onions and garlic to bowl with pancetta.

        Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add chicken to pot skin side down and cook, turning, until browned on all sides, 10-
        15 minutes per batch; transfer to bowl with onions.

       Carefully drain fat from pot and return to medium-high heat. Add both vinegars to pot and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot. Add broth, raisins, bay leaves, and reserved chicken, pancetta, onions, and garlic to pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer partially covered, until chicken is fork-tender, 35-40 minutes.

       Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken and onions to a large platter. Skim fat from cooking liquid and discard. Remove bay leaves, and season sauce with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over chicken and onions.

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