As we are now officially in this holiest of weeks for us home cooks, I wanted to share a meal that is fast and easy enough to make, even with the mountain of Thursday’s cooking looming in the distance. After watching Thanksgiving cooking shows and discussing menu possibilities ad nauseum with family and friends, I wanted a quick dinner last night that incorporated a few of my favorite November things: cranberries, root vegetables, and alcohol!
Despite the many funky variations of cranberry sauce available, I usually steer away and stick to a simple recipe that I like that doesn’t involve jalapenos or walnuts because let’s face it–my family still unabashedly prefers the canned variety and I end up eating the majority of it. However, making cranberry from scratch is so simple and I wanted to try a new variation, so I borrowed from Emeril and will test no further. The addition of Port is the only really new element, and completely enhances what I thought was already the perfect marriage of cranberries, sugar, and a hint of spice.
With the cranberry out of the way, I turned to the chicken. Unfortunately, I accidentally purchased boneless skinless thighs, so next time I’ll use thigh meat with the skin. You could probably use bone-in breasts or legs for this as well, but I am a big fan of dark meat, particularly when braised. Here I lightly floured the meat to encourage its coloring, but would probably skip this step when using meat with the skin intact. I added carrots and parsnips to the dish, but you could easily substitute any root vegetable or even potatoes.
Another point worth mentioning is my use of cider. Farnum Hill Ciders, based in Lebanon, NH are traditional, European-style hard apple ciders that are known for their crisp dryness and aromatic fruit flavors. Besides being wonderfully versatile with foods, they are also fabulous in cooking. I used an entire bottle of Extra Dry Still, perfect with its sharp, clean fruit and bone dryness.
Port Cranberry Sauce (Adapted from Emeril’s Cranberry Sauce)
12 oz. bag cranberries
1/4 c. port
1/2 c. sugar
zest of one orange
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
Combine all ingredients in saucepan, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until cranberries have split and sauce takes on a viscous consistency.
Cider Braised Chicken (serves 4)
3.5 lbs. chicken thighs, preferably with skin intact
few tbsp. flour
3 cloves crushed garlic
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1-2 bay leaves
1 bottle dry apple cider, preferably Farnum Hill (could substitute with dry, white wine)
1/4 c. cognac
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil
carrots, parsnips, celery root, turnip, or any combination
Add crushed garlic and a few tablespoons of olive oil to a braising pan over medium-high heat. Remove garlic and set aside when you begin to smell it. While garlic oil is heating up, combine a few tablespoons of flour with salt and pepper and lightly dredge chicken thighs (I would skip this step if using meat with skin intact). Once the garlic is removed, add the chicken to the infused olive oil and sear on each side for a few minutes until golden brown. Remove chicken and set aside.
Add sliced onions to hot pan with salt and pepper, and saute about 10 minutes until soft and lightly golden. Return chicken and any accumulated juices, root vegetables, garlic, cider, cognac, and bay leaves to pan. The liquid should just cover the meat, but it is fine for the veggies not to be completely submerged. Increase heat, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer with lid for about 20 minutes. Remove lid and continue simmering for another 5 minutes, adjust seasoning, and serve hot along with port cranberry sauce. Brilliant over mashed potatoes or polenta.