Every once in a while someone asks me what my favorite chicken thigh dish is. I should probably say “well, that’s hard” but it’s not. This is it. This is my favorite chicken thigh dish. Sure, it’s something you could make with skin on breasts, or even an airline breast if you were feeling particularly evil, but it’s a dish that really shines with chicken thighs.
This simple chicken dish is essentially chicken à la Normande, a French-style braise made popular in the 1960s. I know it is something that showed up on my parents’ table as a dinner party dish in the ‘80s. It’s rich, produces a wonderful sauce, and relatively easy to prepare. A simple extra step with green apple peels creates a stunning presentation. With a simple salad and good bread, it is downright luxurious on a cool fall night. Yes. I know I’m posting it in May. Use your imagination. Also, I live in Ohio. There are plenty of cool May nights.
This preparation, like (lets face it) a lot of the recipes I post, uses an open braise to produce a evenly borned, slightly crispy skin on top of a lusciously tender braised meat. The cider, apples, thyme, and shallots add layers of tangy aromatics, and the bacon adds a smoky depth. The final addition of cream smooths it all out and brings it together in a sauce that could almost be a dish on it’s own. Plus it’s great with crusty bread to mop it up. As always.
You can use either a sparkling or flat hard cider in the dish but do not substitute fresh (unfermented) cider, because the unfermented sugars will vastly alter the taste of the dish.
Chicken Braised with Apples, Bacon, and CiderCourse: MainCuisine: FrenchDifficulty: Medium
A modern version of poulet normande.
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 cup light chicken stock
1 cup dry hard cider
¼ cup heavy cream
2 pieces smoked bacon
1 Granny Smith apple
1 medium shallot
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 300°.
- Peel and mince the shallot.
- Peel the apple, reserving large pieces of the peel in water for garnish.
- Cup the apple into ¼ or smaller diced pieces. Discard the core.
- Cut the bacon crosswise into ¼-inch strips.
- Place the bacon pieces and 1 tbsp of water in a cold, lidded, shallow pan with sufficient space for the chicken pieces.
- Over medium heat, render the fat from the bacon and cook until crisp, stirring frequently to reduce pan browning.
- Once well-browned, remove the bacon pieces and set aside.
- Season and brown chicken on both sides. When well-browned, set aside. Drain fat and drippings from the pan, reserving 2 tbsp of fat.
- Return the reserved fat to the pan along with the shallot and apples. Sauté until the apples are slightly softened, and then deglaze the pan with brandy – flambéing to burn off the alcohol.
- Return the bacon and chicken pieces to the pan.
- Add stock and cider before tucking the thyme and bay leaf into the pan. The chicken should not be fully covered.
- Braise uncovered in a 300° oven for 1 hour or until chicken is very tender (up to 90 minutes depending on the size of the thighs).
- When fully cooked, remove the chicken pieces to a plate, add the cream, and reduce the liquid by half over medium heat.
- While braising, use a very sharp knife to cut long very thin strips of peel. Place these in cup of ice water. They will curl up like small ribbons.
- Return the chicken to the pan to warm through and garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and julienned pieces of bright green peel.
- Serve with rich pommes purée, a bright salad and good crusty bread.