Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Secret and a Chicken

        I have a secret.  Well, perhaps more of a guilty admission to make.  Remember that Vermont apple wine I wrote of?  Oaky and olive-ish?  Well.  The cold hard truth is that in reality it was...gross.  There, I said it.  Gross.  It was oaky and olive-ish but also tart and vinegary.  I wanted to like it, but I also wanted it to taste like a magically alcoholic cider that would warm one's toes on chilly nights.  This drink, it was not.
        In fairness, it was an interesting concoction.  Maybe it wasn't meant for my glass but with three-quarters of a bottle looking lonely on my countertop I couldn't bring myself to pour it into the sink.  Plus, I really did want to like this drink with such a nice title: apple wine, a drink that stirs cozy images of rustic winters.  To drink or not to drink?
        Perhaps neither.  Enter, the chicken.  To drink or...to poach!  Resourceful and more than helpful in the kitchen, Russ considered the bottle then speculated; dry and savory, maybe the stovetop was just the home this wine was looking for.  It was an interesting idea.
        Now, before we go on, another admission: generally, I don't feel strongly for things poached.  The concept of a poached food has always brought to mind images of squishy eggs and slimy salmon.  But for the love of wine, on this particular night I decided to give poaching a go, if nothing else in the name of finding a way to like that rascally apple drink.
        Enter fresh rosemary and sage.  Enter garlic and onions.  Enter bacon.  All chopped up on a cutting board, I declare there is nothing like the scent of fresh herbs...drinking in the air around a bunch of fresh rosemary is like a green aperitif.  And bacon, well the sheer suggestion of a thick slice, waiting to be cooked, waters the mouth and puts grumbles in the stomach.

        Manning the tongs, staring that bottle of wine in the eye, Russ took on the chicken while I cared for a side- a bit of butternut squash risotto thanks to Gourmet (if you're looking at the recipe we omitted the arugula).  With a pan, a bottle of olive oil and seasonings close by, it was a brush off the cutting board, a clip and toss of the tongs and voila, onions were sputtering and the bacon was on.  I love the smell of onions cooking; it smells of the start of so many delicious possibilities.

        Three juicy chicken breasts snuggled into the mix and it was time.  Streaming wine into the pan the aroma grew full almost instantly.  The heat, the herbs, the super-hero power of bacon...all smells pointed to yes, perhaps this merry melange was just what the bottle was meant for.  The wine bubbled around the chicken, a woodsy smelling bath, herbs and wine and bird all cooking contently together.

        We popped a lid on it, drank gin and tonics to our health, and for our health boiled a lovely, leafy pile of curly green kale (you're giving poaching a chance...now's the time, try boiled kale too!)  Even if you don't like eating dark leafies, I always find that it at least feels good to cook them.  
        One cocktail down, a pot of kale drained and a heaping bowl of risotto steaming on the back burner, it was a happy kitchen...and, time to test the chicken.  I reached for the lid...  Lifted it up...  Wafting, scented steam wrote the end of the story in fragrant loops through the air.  The heavy, sharp flavor of the wine was the perfect backdrop for the earthy-herbed, salt and peppered, bacon-bettered chicken breasts.  From gross to good god that smells great!  Spooning all the goodies from the pan over the chicken, it was decided that the apple wine had led to a triumphant plate indeed.

        And so I reconciled my feelings with that bottle.  Tasty things come in tricky packages.  Apple wine, things poached, even boiled greens (I'm serious...try them).  A meal like this doesn't just feed your hunger, it makes you hungry to find the next surprising feast.  I hope you like it.

        And no more secrets here, I promise.

Apple Wine Poached Chicken

2 T olive oil
2 tsp  fresh sage, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, picked
1/2  a medium sized red onion, roughly chopped
3 strips of bacon, chopped
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 T butter
3 chicken breasts (roughly 1 1/2 pounds)
approx 1/2 bottle apple wine*

*if you can't find apple wine, a white wine such as a riesling will be equally delicious...add a 1/2 T or so of apple vinegar to imitate the fermented flavor of the apple wine.

1.  In a medium frying pan, over medium heat, sautee sage, rosemary, onions, bacon, and garlic (with salt and pepper to your liking) in olive oil until onions begin to sweat.
2.  In the same pan, sear chicken breasts on both sides.
3.  Add butter and stream the wine over the chicken.  You want the wine to come about half-way up the side of the chicken breasts (depending on the size of the pan you are using, you may use more or less than called for in the ingredient list).
4.  Put a lid over the pan, lower the heat and let the wine simmer around the chicken for 15-20 min, or until chicken is cooked through.


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