June 12, 2010

Chicken Canzanese

I had some sage that needed using. A friend had uprooted a monstrous sage bush from his yard, and I became the beneficiary of a whole lot o' sage leaves that needed using (or drying) post haste.

Happily, my June 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for Chicken Canzanese, an appealing-looking braised chicken and wine dish that is fairly different from anything I'd tried before. The dominant seasoning notes of the dish are fresh sage and garlic, but it also contains whole clove buds, which is an intriguing departure from the usual suspects.

The recipe suggested serving the dish over polenta, boiled potatoes, or noodles, and I decided that the generous amount of liquid in the dish could be converted into a nice sauce for linguine. In fact, it was a little on the too-thin side, but was delicious anyway. In the future, I think I would probably reduce the amount of cooking liquid by about 1/2 cup, which shouldn't be detrimental to the main braise, but would result in a slightly thicker sauce at the end.

There was, in fact, so very much sauce that I used it as the basis of a pot pie for the remaining pieces of chicken (stripped from their bones), the next day. Even so, there was more sauce than strictly necessary, and reducing the overall liquid by a half cup is definitely in this dish's future. It also could have taken even more sage, had I only known. I did add a little more to the pot pie, just because I could.

The flavour of this dish is fantastic - familiar, comforting, and somewhat sophisticated, all at the same time. It takes a little while to make, but is definitely worth the wait.

Chicken Canzanese
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, June 2010

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces of diced prosciutto cubes (very small)
4 garlic cloves (sliced lengthwise)
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (back attached), trimmed of excess fat and skin)
2 teaspoons flour
2 cups dry white wine (or 1 1/2 cups...)
1 cup chicken stock or broth
4 clove buds
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, minced
12 whole fresh sage leaves (15 would be better)
2 bay leaves
pinch of red pepper flakes
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
kosher salt

Pre-heat oven to 325℉, with the rack at middle-lower position. Season the chicken lightly with kosher salt, and a little ground white pepper if you wish.

In a large skillet (minimum 12"), heat half the olive oil and saute the prosciutto cubes until fragrant, and add the garlic slices, cooking for just a minute or so until lightly golden (be careful not to burn). Remove to a small bowl and set aside.

Without cleaning the pan, add the rest of the olive oil and heat until very hot. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and cook without disturbing for about 8 minutes or until golden brown. Flip pieces over and cook a further 5 minutes. You may need to do this in two batches. Remove the chicken to a plate.

Remove some of the rendered fat from the pan, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Make a blond roux by adding the flour to the pan, and stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon or spatula until fragrant, about one minute. Add the wine and broth, slowly, stirring to make a smooth, if thin, sauce, continuing to scrape the bottom until all the browned bits have been scraped up off the bottom of the pan. If the sauce is lumping up on you, whisk vigorously until it smoothes out. Add in the clove buds, red pepper flakes, sage leaves, bay leaves, and reserved prosciutto and garlic.

Carefully return the chicken to the pan in a single layer, skin-side up so it sticks out of the liquid. Bake uncovered until tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes. You should check on the chicken after about 15 minutes into the cook time, and the liquid should be barely bubbling. If it is doing something else (or nothing) raise or lower your temperature slightly, accordingly. While the chicken cooks, you can prepare your side dish(es). A big green salad nicely complements the richness of the dish.

Remove chicken from pan to a clean plate, and tent loosely with tinfoil. Place pan over high heat on the stovetop, and boil vigorously until sauce is reduced and thickened. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, butter, and minced rosemary. Pour sauce around chicken, and serve.

This chicken was so incredibly tender, moist, and delicious, even when re-heated the next day in pot-pie format, that I will absolutely be making this dish again. Next time: less liquid, more sage. Next time, also, I will make a full recipe (even for the two of us) and plan to make another stunning pot pie out of the extra.

June 05, 2010

Not Quite Trifle, Almost Parfait

What do you do with a little leftover plain chocolate cake? Well, if you have some strawberries around, you cube up that cake and toss it with sliced strawberries and a big dollop of freshly whipped cream. If I had had the foresight to layer these carefully into parfait glasses, it would surely make an even prettier picture (although I would have had to cut the cubes of cake a little smaller).

When I made this, it was still a little early for strawberries, and they didn't have the most robust flavour. To give them a boost, I sliced them up and macerated them in a little cherry brandy and a pinch of sugar. This is a common treatment for strawberries in our house, especially if there isn't additional fruit available to make a fruit salad. After a couple of hours in the fridge, they were thrown into this ad hoc dessert for a late-night treat in front of the television.

It's not fancy, and it's not something I would ever plan to feed to company, for example, but it was a pretty nice way to say goodbye to the last of the cake that needed using up.

A few final words on whipped cream. If you are in the habit of buying self-whipping cream in a can, do give the old fashioned method a try: it doesn't take much time or effort, and the result is so luxuriously preferable to the sweet, fluffy canned version. You can control the sugar, too, or flavour it in other ways - the aforementioned brandy, for example, or a hint of vanilla extract.