Willow Creek Chicken
Gourmet Magazine’s iconic 1960s publication Bouquet de France tells us that the cow is the key to the superlative food of Normandy. She is the provenance of the milk, butter, cream and cheese for which the cuisine of this northern province of France is so well known.
And apples of course, for Normandy has no vines. Apple trees make up for this and provide excellent cider, sometimes sweet and sparkling, sometimes dry. Cider like wine is distilled and turned into Calvados, a delicious Apple Brandy, which with cider is used to make the highly individual sauces of Normandy. The Norman coastline provides oysters and sole, chicken and duck, beef and lamb.
It is to the chicken that I turn for this recipe – a Norman classic called Poulet a la Vallée d’Auge. I first heard of this dish in the 1970s who was a friend of Bomber Harris, or Sir Arthus Harris, Marshall of the Royal Air Force who taught her how to cook this dish. Having a couple of bottles of cider and a bottle of Calvados in my cupboard, I was well set up for it – so here is my version.
Any serious Norman housewife would use two whole chickens, “cut as for frying” but I find thighs and drumsticks, or a mixture of both, just as satisfactory.
What you’ll need
12 chicken pieces, thighs, drumsticks – skin on and bone in
50g unsalted butter
2 onions – finely chopped
2 carrots – finely chopped
2 sticks celery – finely chopped
300ml dry cider
2 eating apples cut into thick slices or wedges, skin on and core removed
6 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs thyme
freshly milled black pepper
What you’ll do…
Set the oven on 180C. Season the chicken thighs with sea salt and freshly milled black pepper.
Dip them into well seasoned flour, shake off the excess and brown them in the butter in a large pan over medium heat to prevent the butter from browning. Put them in skin side first a few at a time turning to prevent burning, for about 15 minutes, setting them aside till all are done. Pour any excess butter out of the pan and put into it the vegetables and cook until the onions are soft and transparent. Place the chicken pieces on top, heat the Calvados briefly, pour it over and set it alight. Pour over the cider and add the herbs. Cook in the oven for about 75 minutes until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken from the pan, add the cream, season well with sea salt and freshly milled black pepper. Reduce slightly and swirl in a knob of butter and shake off the heat to incorporate it. Add the chicken pieces, allow to warm through and serve with crisp bread and a green salad.