Poulet au vinaigre

IMG_1989 (600 x 450)Yes, well spotted, that’s ‘chicken with vinegar’ to you and me. I know it doesn’t sound particularly appetising, but it’s not vinegar as we know it in the UK, and of course the dish involves wine, posh vinegar, garlic and tarragon, so things are getting better already.

We’ve been in France a couple of times this summer – I lived there for some time during the 1980s, but have hardly visited since, so it’s been fun re-encountering some of the absolutely delicious food I remember from my youth. I lived in quite a rural area, so the restaurants served good, tasty, country food to a clientèle mostly made up from farmers and shopkeepers (and the odd British cook from a neighbouring restaurant, of course…)

When we were in the UK a few weeks ago, I bought an old Raymond Blanc book in a second-hand bookshop in Warwick, and there was the perfect recipe. I always remember making it with sherry or Pineau vinegar, because we lived in the Cognac region and there were plenty of yummy vinegars around. However Monsieur Blanc uses red wine vinegar, so I’ve experimented a little, and discovered that the best way forward (only in my opinion, of course – you can decide) is to use a combination. The red wine vinegar does give it a bit more punch, but I do like the sweetness of the sherry vinegar too.

Obviously we get fantastically sweet tomatoes here, even when they are the giant variety, so if you are making this in the UK, I strongly recommend you use a handful of super-sweet small tomatoes, such as San Marzano, rather than spoiling the dish with a big tasteless beast. There are so few ingredients in this recipe that there’s no place to hide for anything sub-standard. If you really are pushed, and only have a flabby English one, add just a pinch of sugar to help things along – it will still be delicious.

This would be a great dish to make on a school night – only a few ingredients, a quick fry in a pan, then in the oven for 45 minutes, while you flop on the sofa with a glass of wine and the news. It goes really well with some buttered noodles, such as tagliatelle, or with plain boiled rice or buttered new potatoes.

Having said that, it is a very forgiving dish to make if you have friends over, as you can get it to the stage where you put it in the oven, and then refrigerate until your friends arrive (you can do this the day before). If you throw it in the oven from cold, it will take about an hour, so it would be ready to eat once you’ve had drinks and nibbles, then only needs sprinkling with some parsley and you are ready to go.

French beans would be the perfect accompaniment, though for once in our lives, our fridge was bare of them, just when I needed them – pah!

I’ve given you the recipe for two people, because that is what I made, but just double it if there are more of you. If you are making this for more people, use a larger pan – make sure the chicken isn’t too rammed into the pan or the sauce won’t cook down in the right way.

Bon appetit.

Poulet au vinaigre (adapted from Raymond Blanc’s ‘Foolproof French Cookery’)

(Serves 2)

4 chicken thighs (skin on if possible) or 2 chicken thighs plus one breast, cut in half across the middle
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves or garlic, peeled, but left whole and bashed with a knife
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (Kas folk – they have it in Muhtar at a reasonable price)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or date vinegar or balsamic if you are in Turkey)
100ml white or rose wine
1 large sweet tomato or a handful of small ones, diced (no need to peel or seed or any of that malarkey)
A small bunch of tarragon, chopped – or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Chopped parsley to serve

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Heat the butter and oil in a saute pan over a medium heat – choose a pan that will give the chicken plenty of space, so that it browns nicely.

Once the oil and butter are hot and foamy, add the chicken, skin side down. Season the other side while it’s facing you.

Cook the chicken until the skin is a deep golden brown, then turn over and brown the other side for three or four minutes or until it is a nice golden brown.

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Remove the chicken to a plate and pour off most of the fat – just leave about a teaspoon in the pan. Don’t scrape the bottom, you want all of those lovely brown bits left in the pan, as they will form the sauce, you just don’t want loads of oil in the sauce at the end – you’ve fried the chicken, the oil has served its purpose.

Add the garlic cloves to the pan and stir around for a minute or so to just brown them a little, then add the wine and vinegar. Use a spatula to make sure you scrape up all the nice bits from the bottom of the pan. Season.

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Add the diced tomatoes and tarragon, give everything a bit of a stir, then return the chicken to the pan, skin side up.Don’t pour the sauce over the chicken – leave the skin exposed to the heat of the oven, so that it continues to crisp.

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Cook in the oven for about 45 minutes – check after 30 minutes – if it looks as though the sauce is drying up too much, add a little more wine or some hot water. If you have used halved breasts, they will take less time than thighs – they should be ready after 30 minutes.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.

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