Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bon Appetit's Alsatian style Chicken in beer and cream sauce, 1987

It's been ages, my fatheads, since we simply cooked something new. On a gray rainy morning in April we will venture back to Bon Appétit magazine's hardbound collection, French Country Favorites, published in 1987. We'll choose Chicken in Beer and Cream Sauce, "Alsatian style."

And we'll do it our way. The recipe tells us to braise the chicken pieces. I don't do that, since for me the result of braising is a fussy, rubbery, thick-skinned mess. I manfully admit my technique is lacking, tug my forelock at those who do it well, and, re: braising instructions: bake either a whole chicken or chicken pieces in the oven instead, collect its drippings in a clear Pyrex cup, and then siphon off the good juices from under their layer of fat with a bulb baster. That gives you the chicken-y base liquid you need to put together the sauce that braising would have created. Remember one of our favorites, Chicken with Olive Sauce, done just this way? I even took a picture of the cup.

And a picture of the beginnings of a sauce, any sauce, which will probably include onions.

For our Chicken in Beer and Cream, Alsatian style, do take care what kind of beer you use. Three cups is a lot. Dinner will have a whiff of beer bitterness anyway. "Avoid dark," the recipe warns, and maybe circa 1987 that simple warning would have sufficed, but nowadays you must take even greater care to avoid any American ultra-hoppy craft beers. You might try Wisconsin-based Pecatonica, whose Alphorn ale and (ultra prize-winning) Amber ale I was lucky enough to be able to try yesterday. Both superb.

Our retro 1987 Alsatian recipe also called for a thickening of both a roux (butter and flour melted together) and three egg yolks. So French! So rich. But I thought this seemed too rich, so I let the beer, cream, and chicken essence simply cook down to a nice consistency.

Off we go, then; and for an accompaniment, why not a lithe and delicate Alsatian riesling, or possibly more of the beer? 

Chicken in Beer and Cream Sauce, Alsatian style

1 4-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large bay leaf
2 whole cloves
3 cups beer
1 cup whipping cream
pinch nutmeg

Bake the chicken pieces in a shallow pan in a 325 F oven for 45 minutes to an hour -- all dark-meat thighs and drumsticks can bake longer, about an hour and a half, and will be all the more succulent.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet. Add and soften the diced onion and then the minced garlic, taking care only to warm the garlic and not burn it. Add the bay leaf and cloves. Pour in the beer -- if your chicken is done by this time you may use some of the beer to deglaze the roasting pan, and then pour in that -- reduce heat, and simmer and reduce the sauce slowly.  Add the juices, defatted a la the Pyrex cup and the bulb baster, from the chicken roasting pan.

Pour in the cream, add salt and pepper to taste, and continue slowly simmering and reducing the sauce until it is of a nice thickness. Drop in a small pinch of nutmeg.

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