Thursday, 24 February 2011

Poulet Basque/ish (at long last, chicken...)

I’m over 40 posts into this blog and I’ve not once written up a chicken recipe.  The closest I’ve come is the Guinea Fowl and mushroom pie I made because Becca had never had chicken pie.  You must think I’m a terrible snob, disdaining the humble chicken while publically flaunting my dalliances with its more glamourous cousins, guinea fowl, pheasant and grouse.  That’s not the case, although I can see why you might think it was.

I love chicken.  Who doesn’t?  I’d go so far as to say that chicken, in the form of coq au vin, was at one time something close to my signature dish.  I might go so far as to say that coq au vin was partly responsible for getting me my job at the Rivington, in so far as I’m sure it helped that when Sami, the head chef at the time, called me up to offer me a trial shift I was actually in the middle of cooking up coq au vin for twenty odd, for my friend Darren’s birthday dinner.  There was that and the fact that on that trial shift I was able to dispatch a lobster, by swiftly bisecting it, with my own knife (which I have to admit was a case of winging it – it was something I had never done before, although fortunately I had recently read a ‘how to’ article).  Of course the main thing that got me the job was being fortunate enough to have friends who were friends with Mark Hix, but without wishing to blow my own trumpet that didn’t help me with the coq au vin for twenty, let alone the lobster killing…

Anyway, here’s a chicken dish, a version of Poulet Basque, which I’d venture to suggest is close enough to do without the “-ish” suffix, although seeing as I am neither Basque, nor francophone, I think I might prefer to keep it anyway.  It just seems less pretentious, while remaining a more satisfactory and appetizing name than the functional English ‘chicken with peppers in cider.  Or wine, for that matter, although personally I’d be inclined to go for ‘Siciliana-ish’ if I were doing it with wine, although I would probably draw the line at calling the chicken ‘pollo’ in that case.  Not sure why.

Poulet basque (or a la basquaise), incidentally, doesn’t seem to attract the same degree of authenticity claim and counter claim as, say, cassoulet.  Another reason I’m not so bothered about the “-ish” suffix in this instance.  It doesn’t even have a recipe listed in Larousse, in which “a la basquaise” is defined as describing “recipes (particularly for omelettes or sautéed chicken) using tomatoes, sweet peppers, garlic and often Bayonne ham.  I’m going to disregard the tomatoes – there is, after all, nothing peculiarly or distinctively Basque about the use of tomatoes in Mediterranean cooking, or garlic, or ham (Bayonne, bacon, pancetta, whatever…) for that matter.  No, it’s the peppers that make the difference here.  Or in Sicily.  With regards to the ham (or equivalent), although I didn’t on this occasion, I often would use shredded smoked bacon or pancetta in this dish, so I’ll include it as an optional item in the recipe.

As for the use of cider, searching the web, I find most recipes use wine, some no booze at all, just stock, which seems just plain perverse to me, but as cider is what people commonly drink down there, at least on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, then it seems only natural to cook with it too.   I’m not going to claim it as any great innovation of my own.

You can of course joint a whole chicken for this, and I’d always heartily recommend doing so, but I have to admit, this dish is something I tend to do as a quick and easy dinner for two, and for that those supermarket packs of chicken thighs are perfect.  Much less hassle than jointing a whole bird, and just about as economical (as long as you get the skin on, bone in thighs.  And why would you ever not?  Let me tell you, if I ever catch you - any of you - buying the skinless, boned thigh fillets from the supermarket, I will come round to your house and do bad things…).

So, for a quick dinner for 2 you’ll need:

4 chicken thighs
1 red onion
1 red pepper (or a mix of red, green and/or yellow if you like)
4 rashers smoked bacon/pancetta shredded/diced (optional)
A little fresh chilli and plenty of garlic, finely sliced
Thyme, bay, salt, pepper
300ml Cider (more or less - or white wine) 

Brown the chicken thighs in a (preferably shallow lidded casserole).  When they are a pretty golden colour, first add the bacon/pancetta, if using it, for a couple of minutes or so until that too is nicely coloured, otherwise just go ahead and add all the other ingredients together, except the cider, and cook until the onion and peppers are starting to soften.  Then add the cider – it should be just enough to cover the peppers and onions and half the chicken thighs.  Bring to the simmer and cover.  This dish can be done entirely on the stove top, or transferred to the oven.  For the quantity above, I’d tend to leave it on the stove and allow it to simmer away covered for about 35-40 minutes.  If I were doing it in larger quantities, I’d be inclined to put it in the oven, at around 180 for a similar sort of time, or lower and slower if I had the time. 

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