Cream. Butter. Bacon. Apples. Apple cider. Calvados (sort of). What more could you ask from dinner? This dish, Poulet Vallee D'Auge, orginates in Normandy, the land of dairy products and apple brandy. It's basically a stew--I suppose the French might call it a friccasse(?)--but it tastes fancier. I couldn't get Calvados on short notice, which was a shame, but Apple Jack did the trick. This isn't something to put into your once-a-week rotation. But it would be nice for a special occasion with some crusty bread and a vinegary green salad, or just an evening when you're feeling enterprising.
Poulet Vallee D'Auge
aka Chicken with Calvados and Cream
(adapted from Classic Dishes of the World, 1977)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
In a large, wide-bottomed casserole, melt:
4 Tablespoons butter
Add, and brown well on all sides:
1 whole chicken, cut up
(Historically, I haven't really believed in browning meat before braising. My browning was lackadasical at best. But that's because I was doing it wrong. Browning chicken in a non-non-stick casserole in butter was a revelation. I'll never go back.)
In a small saucepan, warm:
1/3 cup Calvados (Apple Jack or other apple-flavored liquor works, too)
Remove the chicken from the heat and turn out most of the lights in your kitchen. Light the Calvados on fire and pour it over the chicken. When the flames die down, turn on the lights, remove the chicken from the pan and add to the drippings:
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 ounces fatty bacon (about 4 thick-cut strips), chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper
Fry until soft. Return chicken to pan and add:
1 1/2 to 2 cups hard apple cider or apple juice
Bring to a boil, then cover and transfer the casserole to the oven to cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is very tender. Remove chicken from pan and place on a serving dish. Return the pan to the burner. Boil until reduced by one-third, then remove from heat. (The cookbook says to strain the sauce, but I decided I was going fot rustic charm and mine was fine without straining.)
1/4 cup cream
2 egg yolks
Add cream and egg mixture to the sauce, pouring slowly but stirring rapidly. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a bare simmer. Do not boil. Serve the sauce poured over the chicken, or in a gravy boat on the side.