As is often the case with foods found growing together in the same region, apples and hazelnuts have a happy affinity for one another. Add a creamy mustard sauce to the mix, along with a succulent chicken, and you have a sensational chicken sauté.
September is coming to a close and in the LunaCafe kitchen, we are looking to October, or Golden Harvest Moon, as we like to call it. In the Northwest, the leaves are just beginning to turn.
The days are shorter but still deliciously warm in the afternoons. In the countryside, the pumpkin patches are opening for you-pickers and the corn mazes are gearing up. Dahlias and zinnias are still in full glory. The bounty of vegetables, fruit, and flowers is at it’s absolute zenith. Wow!
Early season apples were overflowing the bins this past weekend at the Portland Farmer’s Market and at the numerous fruit stands along the Hood River Fruit Loop. At Rasmussen Farms, Packer Orchards, Mt. View Orchards, and Kiyokawa Orchards, we scooped up a few each of numerous early apple varieties: Yoko (an early variety of Fuji), McIntosh, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Winter Banana, Honeycrisp, Gala, Sansa, Red Gravenstein, Liberty, Akane, Elstar, Johanthan, Pink Pearl Zestar, Tsugara, Ginger Gold, and Earligold.
This is just a small sampling of the varieties that will become available over the next 4 weeks. (Check out the list of available varieties in the resources section of the Fresh Apple Primer.)
A fresh out-of-hand apple is pure delight, as are all of the homey apple desserts, but apples are also great in savory dishes, as in this wonderful early autumn chicken sauté.
Chicken Sauté with Caramelized Apples and Toasted Hazelnuts
I gravitate toward dishes that evoke the everyday cooking of countless generations of women feeding their families on the bounty of their own farms and surrounding countryside. Not showy, not intellectual; just well-crafted, delicious, and soul warming. This is one of those dishes.
As is often the case with foods found growing together in the same region, apples and hazelnuts have a happy affinity for one another. Add a creamy mustard sauce to the mix, along with a succulent chicken, and you have a sensational meal.
Although the salt curing process is not absolutely necessary, you will be pleased with how moist and tender the chicken is when you go to the effort to dry cure it for two or three days. In addition to tenderizing, the salt and seasonings magically work their way into the meat so that every bite is perfectly seasoned and aromatic. I rarely cook a chicken these days without salt curing it first. The result is well worth any extra effort and time involved.
This process is detailed more extensively in Judy Rodger’s most excellent book, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant. Ms. Rodgers is a goddess in the kitchen. Her cookbook is a must-have for the serious cook.
one 3-pound Washington or Oregon fryer, cut into 10 serving pieces (back and wing tips reserved for the stockpot)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
medium-coarse sea salt (about ¾ teaspoon per pound of chicken)
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 cups chopped onion (1 medium onion; about 10 ounces)
2 cloves garlic, peeled, and pressed or minced
a few gratings of whole nutmeg
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (best quality natural vinegar)
¾ cup dry English-style cider (not apple juice, which is too sweet here)
¾ cup unsalted, chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2-3 tart, green apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and sliced into quarters
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt cure the chicken (2-3 days before needed)
- Rinse the chicken, removing extraneous fat from the cavity, and pat completely dry on the inside and outside.
- Loosen the skin over the breasts, thighs, and legs.
- Use your fingers to spread fresh herbs and mustard as evenly as you can under the skin. Try not to tear the skin in the process and pat it back into place when you are finished.
- Season the chicken’s skin liberally on all sides (but don’t go overboard) with salt and pepper.
- Arrange the chicken pieces in a large baking dish or edged baking sheet and cover tightly with foil. Refrigerate for 2-3 days.
Prepare the dish
- Wipe the chicken pieces dry with paper towels, removing any excess salt.
- Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan.
- When hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down, making sure not to overcrowd them.Brown the pieces well on all sides and remove to a platter. The browning process should take only about 15 minutes. You don’t want to cook the chicken all the way through.
- Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the sauté pan, and then add the onions to the pan. Cook the onions until softened and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Continue to sauté the onions, deepening the color to a rich brown. Add garlic and nutmeg, and stir to combine.
- Add apple cider vinegar, and reduce to almost nothing. Then add dry cider, and reduce by half.
- Add chicken stock, along with the chicken pieces, cover, and simmer very gently (a few bubbles on the surface only; do not boil!) for 10-15 minutes. At this point the breasts are usually done. However, if they are particularly large, you may need to cook them a bit longer. Remove breasts from the pan, position on a large serving platter, and keep warm in a 200ºF oven.
- Continue cooking remaining chicken, covered, for another 15 minutes or so, until juices of the thigh run clear when deeply pierced with a paring knife. A temperature probe should read 180ºF. (The French preference for perfectly cooked chicken is an internal temperature of 170º-175º. The American preference is for 190º, which, in my experience, produces dry chicken. So I’m splitting the difference here.)
- While chicken is cooking, sprinkle sugar over the apples.
- In a sauté pan large enough to contain the apples in a single layer, melt butter, add apples, and sauté, turning once or twice, until they are nicely browned and caramelized. Do not cook them so long that they no longer hold their shape. They must still be firm and a bit crunchy. Remove from the pan, and hold for a moment.
- When remaining chicken is cooked through, add pieces to the serving platter, along with the breasts, and place apples between and on top of the pieces. Keep warm in a 200ºF oven.
- Reduce the stock remaining in the sauté pan to a syrupy consistency.
- Add cream and Dijon mustard, stir, reduce slightly, and then season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- Nap chicken and apples with sauce. Sprinkle hazelnuts over the top, and serve.
Copyright 2008 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.