Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chicken in Red Wine Vinegar

First published Canberra Times 19 October 2011. Journeying into the countryside, with Beaune in the heart of Burgundy as our base, I encounter many of the local characters who live and breathe French cuisine. These are the people who greatly contribute to the charm and flavour of the Burgundian table.

The farmers in these parts believe that the fruits of the Burgundian earth “please each other” with much of the produce grown side by side. This harks back to the times when there was once an economic imperative to do this, in the share-cropping days when labourers would plant a crop of their own among the landlord’s vines.

We stop off for lunch at a little Auberge that is surrounded by vineyards with vines in their first spring bud as far as the eye can see. The amiable and generously sized owner recommends the chicken in red wine vinegar as the day’s specialty, explaining he brews his own vinegar from the renowned local wines. A woman wearing an apron sticks her head out of the kitchen and beckons us to sit outside at a table in a sunny corner out of the wind.

Next to us, is a large table of workmen who are noisily eating their way through the red wine vinegar chicken. They mop up the juices with bread and share jugs of wine. They all leave together and kiss both hosts goodbye, walking up the road to return to work in a nearby vineyard.

Our jovial host pronounces the red wine vinegar as vin aigre, meaning acid wine. Appearing to be not in a hurry to clear up tables, he sits down with us to explain the process in detail.  He brews it in a large earthenware crock with a tap, using leftover red wine.  He says you start with the floating, cloudy-looking membrane, that is found floating on top of the remains of a bottle of vinegar. He calls this jelly-like substance, the vinegar mother. You pour the mother and the vinegar into the crock and add a bottle or two of a fruity red wine, covering the top with some cloth so it can still breathe. 

The vinegar remains like this for six months or so before you should taste it. When you do, it should have a mellow flavour. If it’s still too sharp, leave it for about another month. All you need to do to keep it producing is to top the crock up with some red wine every now and then.

Although keen to try the brewing when I get home, I focus on the chicken. It’s meltingly tender, with only a touch of piquancy from the vinegar.  I’m loving the garlic flavour, that provides a hint of sweetness. 

The recipe was kindly provided by our host, and I’ve made assumptions with quantities. I’ve made this recipe a few times now, and it’s incredibly simple and quick.  It’s perfect for a midweek meal and keeps well for a few days in the fridge.

Although the chickens in France have a stronger flavour because of their breeding and appellation controls, if you can source an organic chicken, you will be rewarded with a good result.

Serve with a crusty baguette and butter, and a crisp green salad.

1 whole chicken, chopped into pieces, or equivalent in pieces
sea salt and ground black pepper
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large head of garlic
1 cup of red wine vinegar
500g fresh tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
handful of thyme
handful of sage
6 bay leaves
1 ½ cups of chicken stock
chopped parsley

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Melt half the butter in a large frypan over medium heat and cover with the lid.

Add the chicken, skin side down, starting with the thick parts of the chickens first as they need the longest to cook. When they begin to brown add the smaller pieces, cooking for about 10 minutes. When all the pieces are brown on one side, turn them over and cook for a further few minutes.

Divide the garlic cloves, and add them unpeeled to the pan of chicken. Cover and cook for a further 10 minutes. Then holding the lid on the pan, so the chicken pieces don’t fall, drain off the excess fat.

Return the pan to the heat and add the red wine vinegar. Simmer uncovered until the vinegar is well reduced, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Chop the tomatoes, you don’t need to peel them as the sauce will be strained later. Add them to the chicken with the tomato puree and the herbs. Cover and simmer again for a further 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a serving dish and keep warm. Add the stock to the pan and simmer the sauce uncovered, allowing it to reduce again until slightly thickened. This should take about 10 minutes.

Pour the sauce into a sieve and push the contents through to extract the juices. Pour into a small saucepan cooking on medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining butter to make a glossy sauce.

Pour the sauce over the warm chicken pieces and serve topped with fresh parsley.
Photos by Steve Shanahan.

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