Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Poulet au Cidre et Panais (Chicken with Cider and Parsnips)

Cider and crepes are a near-perfect pairing, bringing together two of the most quintessential tastes of France’s northwest. Low in alcohol (the brut, or dry, varieties, are about 4.5-5%, sweet ones less than half that) with a light, frothy fizz, cider is indisputably fun to drink. But like a former boy-band member now attempting a solo career, it doesn’t tend to get a lot of respect. Outside of creperies, it rarely appears on menus. Selection is often limited, with little differentation in the stock at wine shops and supermarkets.* And while high-quality, low-yield ciders are still being produced, neither marketers nor food writers have exploited cider’s history, variety and versatility.

Until the mid twentieth-century, cider followed wine as France’s second-most popular alcoholic beverage. But a growing taste for beer, combined with rising production costs, has resulted in severe, if not yet terminal, decline of the cider industry. At stake is a product central to the culinary—and cultural—identity of large parts of Normandy and Brittany and an underappreciated partner for all sorts of food.

It’s hardly coincidental that dry cider (cidre bouché) is at its best with autumnal produce and cooler-weather preparations like soups and stews. It can be swapped for white wine in classic dishes like onion soup or moules marinieres and is an ideal braising liquid—with or without another regional product, crème fraiche—for chicken, pork or rabbit. Served chilled in a tall pilsner glass, it would complement a plate of cheese, particularly hard, aged ones with sharp and/or caramel notes (Comte, Cheddar) or any with a blooming rind (Camembert, Brie, Waterloo). Cidre bouché won’t become cloying alongside inherently sweet vegetables like pumpkin or parsnip, and, unlike wine, can tolerate vinegar or other acids. Its sweet counterpart, cidre doux, is, admittedly, a bit less adaptable. But it seems a natural alongside traditional Thanksgiving pies and most any other dessert featuring autumn fruit.

The following recipe, from the ever-reliable Art of Braising, can be used as a template for any white meat-cider stew. Should sparkling French cider be unavailable, substitute a dry, crisp (hard) cider, with more of the same to drink.

Chicken Braised with Cider and Parsnips
Serves 2
Total time: 70 minutes; Active time: 50 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 large shallot
2 cups (500 ml) cider
Fresh thyme
3/4 pound (330 g) parsnips

Heat a lidded skillet or braising pan over a medium heat. Add oil. When it shimmers, add chicken thighs, skin-side down. Season with salt and pepper. Turn as needed until browned on all sides, 5-8 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, finely chop the shallot. Remove the browned chicken and set on a plate. Add shallot and soften for a minute, stirring to avoid sticking. Raise heat and pour in cider. Scrape the bottom of the pan, then allow the mixture to boil for 10-15 minutes. The cider should reduce to about ¼ of its original volume.

Peel the parsnips and remove any woody core. Cut into long, thin sticks, about the shape of an index finger. Add the parsnips and thyme to the reduced liquid and place the chicken on top. If the pan is deep, use parchment paper or aluminum foil under the lid to get a tight, close seal. Turn the heat down to low and simmer very gently until the chicken is fully cooked and pulling away from the bone, 30-35 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a serving plate. Taste the parsnips for tenderness and the sauce for concentration. The latter should be sweet and glossy, but not thick enough to coat a spoon. If required, cook one or both on a gentle heat for another 5-10 minutes. Adjust for seasoning, arrange parsnips on the serving plate and pour over sauce.

* In Paris, a wide selection can be found at
Breizh Café and Pomze.


Anonymous said...

I cooked this tonight!

My girlfriend and I are Californians living in the 20ème. We found Petit Pois while looking for references to Le Square Trousseau after our lovely meal there last Sunday.

Tonight's meal was marvelous. We'll repeat it, for sure. Merci!

Shira said...

Roger, thanks for your message. How was dinner at the Trousseau? I've been eying the big bowl of chocolate mousse and the croque madame (lunch only, I think), but do you have any particular recommendations?

Kevin Kossowan said...

I've started making apple wines and cider and have been looking for good content on how to apply it in the kitchen - so thanks for posting this.

Shira said...

Kevin: Wow, I'm impressed. Looking forward to reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Shira, our dinner at Square Trousseau was lovely. Everyone was pleased with their plats principaux (onglet, suprême de poulet, risotto). But as I mentioned with my photos, the entrées were the stars. Not to be missed: the cappuchino of cêpes and châtaignes.

And all-you-can-eat mousse is a dangerous notion.