Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vermouth-braised Chicken

Over the course of this year I plan to explore a number of comfort food recipes graciously supplied by my family and friends. Most of these recipes memorialize beloved dishes made by grandmothers and great-grandmothers. We’ll travel to Trentino-Alto Adige in Northern Italy to cook Strangolapreti, a delicious spinach and ricotta gnocchi. We’ll make an Armenian beef and fermented cabbage stew called Tutoo. But first, let’s start this new series of posts with a braised chicken recipe mentioned in passing here, that my wife’s family affectionately refers to as Grandma’s Chicken. This dish embodies the type of simple comfort food that I look forward to sharing with you in the months to come.

The grandma of Grandma’s Chicken-fame was born in 1890 and lived on a dairy farm located about 30 miles west of Milwaukee. Clara Lucinda Dreyer Solveson raised three beautiful daughters, and the youngest, Joy, brought the recipe with her to the West Coast. Clara’s recipe epitomizes straightforward homey fare. Accomplished cooks can likely approximate this family favorite dish based solely upon these instructions: dust a sectioned chicken in flour; brown; add vermouth, herbs and spices; braise until tender. But why leave something that tastes so good to chance? Here’s the family’s recipe.

½ cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 pound chicken, sectioned into 10 pieces
3 tablespoons canola oil
½ to ¾ cup dry vermouth
3 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne (or paprika)

1. Put ½ cup flour into a bowl and dredge the chicken pieces, with skin on, in flour to lightly coat. The chicken skin adds fat, and thus flavor, to the dish; the flour thickens the sauce.

2. Warm a heavy 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Add 3 tablespoons of canola oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), add the chicken pieces to the skillet skin-side down. Do not crowd the pan otherwise the chicken will steam and not brown. You may need to brown the chicken in batches. Take care not to scorch the chicken; your goal is to create a golden, light brown chicken skin.

3. When the skin is browned, turn the pieces over and brown the other side. Don’t worry if flour (or even bits of the chicken) sticks to the skillet. These will help to flavor your sauce. Rotate and turn the chicken around the pan to uniformly brown the pieces.

4. After browning the chicken, add ½ to ¾ cup of dry vermouth to the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes or so. The amount of liquid at this stage in the cooking process determines if the final sauce is thick or thin. Use a wooden spoon to carefully mix the vermouth into the browned chicken. Scrape any browned bits to incorporate this flavoring into your sauce. Once done, reduce the heat to achieve a gentle simmer. Add the parsley and season the chicken with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne (or paprika).

5. Cover and cook at a gentle simmer until the chicken is tender. This should take approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. Occasionally check in on the braise to make sure that the heat is just right and that the sauce is neither too thick nor too thin. If too thick for your taste, add a splash of water or stock.

Once the chicken is tender, serve with rice or buttered noodles. You should have enough chicken to feed 6 people (or 2 to 3 hungry nephews).