Living in Harvard Square I am accustomed to over-achievers. Last spring students took it upon themselves to clear out a grassy area for an edible vegetable garden. I enjoyed watching the garden’s progress and its colorful output – a rainbow of Swiss chard, lolling sunflowers bigger than my head and tomatoes galore. And I wasn’t surprised when last weekend, at the Fall Harvest Festival they organized at the garden, they didn’t just serve apple cider – they determined to make it themselves. Their “squeeze your own cider” sign attracted a line of folks eager to take a twirl at the ancient looking wooden press they had procured for the job.
There is something about the taste of simply processed apples that brings me back to my pre-kindergarten years – apple juice, apple sauce and apple cider. When I make apple sauce in my kitchen I like to eat it with a kid-sized spoon. Now I hardly drink apple juice but drinking warm apple cider is something I will never be too old for. And in fact, it may be a drink better suited to adults, given its rather un-child friendly origins.
Cider was created in Europe as an alcoholic drink – a fast spreading middle ages fad with orchards planted just for cider-growing-apple trees and monasteries making a killing on the brew. Its popularity spread to the new world where it was cheap and easy to grow apples in comparison to grain. Eventually imported beer took on a greater appeal and interest in hard cider waned, but contemporary micro-breweries have brought the original beverage back with chic craft ciders.
If September was all about apple picking and pie baking, November is the month for cooking with cider- alcoholic or non. After drinking a particularly warm cup of local cider (the non-fermented version) mulled with cinnamon I wanted to find a way to get those flavors into a chicken dish. I found a video on Cooks Country, a Cooks Illustrated affiliate, that showed an amazing hybrid dish – chicken that stayed crispy on top while being quickly braised in apple flavors. I added a flourish of cinnamon to evoke that warm beverage.
You begin the dish by browning the chicken and getting a crisp skin, sautéing onion and large chunks of apple with some aromatics. You combine these with apple cider and do a quick 20 minute braise in a skillet in the oven. The dish tastes like -well like a mix between apple sauce and mulled apple cider. Just what this kid wanted,
Cider Braised Chicken
Adapted from a Cooks Country recipe
3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (you can use dark or white – be sure to halve breasts and separate thighs and legs to ensure even cooking)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons flour
1 large Golden Delicious, or Fiji apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 and ¼ cup apple cider
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Heat oil in an oven proof skillet over medium-high heat – add oil and cook chicken, skin side down, for 5-10 minutes, until well browned. Flip sides and brown for another 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set on a plate.
Add chopped onion and apple to the skillet and saute in pan juices for 5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, cinnamon stick and flour and stir for 1 minute. Add cider and bring to a boil.
Nestle the chicken – crispy skin side up – back into the skillet with the onions etc and put into the oven. Roast for 10 minutes. Serve with apple and onion chunks as well as juices from the pan.