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Dark Days: Chicken and Parsnips Braised in Hard Cider

We made this for dinner on Saturday, but because we tried out a (delicious) punch recipe with some friends yesterday, we didn’t get around to posting about it…or doing anything else we were supposed to do…until today. Oops! Pretty nice way to spend an afternoon, though.

Braising is one of my favorite Dark Days techniques, because we tend to eat more meat in the winter and I appreciate the extra heat from the oven. I have made five or six recipes from the book All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, because it has an excellent breakdown of the techniques and great recipes for creative and classic dishes, like Coq au Vin and pot roast. The short version of the procedure is: brown the meat, sauté the aromatics (such as onions and garlic), use a liquid (like wine) to loosen all the yummy dark bits from the bottom of the pan, put the meat back in the pan, cover, and cook at a low temperature in a small amount of liquid for several hours.

This recipe is also from All About Braising and is a winner, even though we ended up missing the movie we had planned on seeing, because it wasn’t ready in time. I ALWAYS underestimate the amount of time braising will take. It just takes longer to actually get to the braising part than I think it will. Lesson learned – either start an hour earlier than you think you should or don’t make plans to eat at a specific time. The nice part was that the recipe makes chicken and vegetables, so we didn’t have to mess with making a side dish. If you haven’t had parsnips before, this is a great way to try them. They’re sweet by themselves, but extra tasty after spending an hour in a bacon hard cider bath.

Chicken and Parsnips Braised in Hard Cider

Ingredients:

Amount Ingredient Preparation Where we bought it
(* Union Square Greenmarket)
2 tsp Sunflower oil Stolor Organics (sold by Cayuga Organics)*
4 slices Thick-cut bacon Cut into 1/2 inch wide strips Flying Pigs Farm *
4 (~3 pounds) Chicken breasts Bone-in and skin-on Violet Hill Farm *
To taste Salt and pepper
1 large Shallot Minced Paffenroth Gardens *
2 1/2 cups Hard cider (still or bubbly) Doc’s Hard Cider
1 TBsp Fresh rosemary Finely chopped Our fire escape
1 pound Parsnips Peeled and cut into 3-inch by 1/2-inch sticks Paffenroth Gardens *

Directions:

  1. Rinse the chicken breasts under cool water and then pat them very dry with a paper towel or two. They won’t brown very well if they’re damp, so don’t rush this step. Sprinkle both sides liberally with salt and pepper. Set them aside.

  2. Slice the bacon into 1/2-inch strips.

  3. Heat the oil in a 12-inch cast iron skilletover medium heat and add the bacon. Make sure your skillet has a lid. If it doesn’t, use a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot that will fit all the breast in one layer.

  4. Stir the bacon occasionally until it becomes crisp, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer the bacon to a paper towel covered plate to drain.

  5. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet (discard) and return it to medium high heat. Place the chicken breasts, skin side down, in the pan. This part is a bit like playing Tetris. Try not to move them around too much once they’re in the pan, but you might need to make a few adjustments to get them all to fit. In my pan, it works best to arrange them like the wedges in Trivial Pursuit. Try to remember the order they went in, because the first one in will brown first.

  6. While the breasts are browning, chop the shallot, rosemary, and parsnips, if you haven’t already. The larger parsnips might have a visible, tough core. It’s worth removing this, if you have time.

  7. After about 5 minutes, take a peak at the underside of the first breast you put in. It should be a nice golden brown and not stick to the pan. If it seems ready, flip it over with tongs and repeat for the other three breasts. If it sticks or isn’t brown, leave it for another minute. You’re not trying to cook them through at this point, just give them a nice brown crust.

  8. After another 5 minutes, check the second side. If your breasts are pretty thick, you might want to stand them up against the side of the pan to brown the edge for another 2 to 3 minutes. Once all the sides are brown, take the breasts out of the pan and set them on a large plate.

  9. Keep the pan on medium high heat and add the shallot. Stir constantly, because it will burn quickly. Once the shallot is brown, about a minute, add 2 cups of the hard cider.
  10. Let the cider cook down to about 1/2 cup, which will take about 15 minutes. While it’s boiling, use a wooden spoon to scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan.

  11. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  12. Add the rosemary and the other 1/2 cup of cider and reduce it again to about 3/4 cup. This should take another 8 minutes or so.
  13. Arrange the parsnips in a single layer on the bottom of the pan and give them a good sprinkling of salt and grind of black pepper.
  14. Add the bacon on top of the parsnips and try to spread it evenly.

  15. Put the chicken, skin side down, back in the pan on top of the parsnips and bacon. Cover it with a piece of parchment paper and then the lid. If you’re using a pot, push the parchment paper down so that it almost touches the chicken, so that you can mimic the tighter quarters of the skillet.

  16. Put the skillet in the oven and cook for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, flip the chicken and cook for another 25 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink on the inside (make a small incision in the thickest part to check).

  17. After the chicken is done, use a slotted spoon/spatula or tongs to transfer the chicken and parsnips to a plate. Cover them with tin foil and return the pan to the stove. Boil the sauce over medium high heat for about 10 minutes to thicken it. It won’t become thick like gravy, but it will be thicker than broth.
  18. Serve each breast on a big pile of parsnips with a good drizzle of sauce.

I think I’m going to go eat the leftovers for lunch. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

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