Warm, simple antidote for reluctant spring: Braised Chicken with Scallion Purée

by Terry B on April 15, 2009

A base of coarsely puréed scallions and potatoes adds a rustic note to this hearty country dish with a French accent, Braised Chicken with Scallion Purée. Recipe below.

The April issues of the food magazines are filled with springy, hopeful recipes and pictures. Beautiful, slender spears of asparagus abound, as do fresh snap peas, baby spring greens and fingerling potatoes. But as T.S. Eliot warned us, “April is the cruellest month.” It certainly has been here in Chicago. A snowstorm postponed the White Sox home opener by a day; cold rain fell on the Cubs’ first outing in Wrigley Field. And persistent, sharp winds have more than once made us regret abandoning our down parkas for mere wool coats.

So I was quite happy to find this hearty, comforting dish in the April chapter of Amanda Hesser’s The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings for the French Countryside. Although the green onions [two dozen of them, no less] give it a springlike brightness, the long-braised chicken has a definite wintry stick-to-your-ribs quality about it as well.

This is the second of three Francocentric cookbooks that Karin over at Second Act in Altadena has recommended to me. I can see why she likes it so much—and why avid [obsessive?] gardener Christina from A Thinking Stomach loves it. I’d be hard pressed to name a cookbook that more completely connects the garden to the dinner table. Author Hesser spent a year as a cook in a 17th-century French chateau in Burgundy, and a central figure in the book is the aging caretaker of the chateau’s kitchen garden, Monsieur Milbert. Hesser gradually overcomes his Gallic reserve, and he shares the secrets of the garden with her.

Beautifully told stories aside, this is an impressive cookbook, with more than 240 recipes arranged by seasonality. I haven’t spent nearly enough time exploring it, but the straightforward goodness of this recipe tells me I’ll be back for more.

A couple of quick notes. Hesser’s recipe calls for either a semi-labor intensive “spring stock” involving three pounds of veal bones and almost five hours—or water. The difference seemed pretty stark to me, so I doctored some store bought chicken broth with some of the ingredients of her spring stock and an idea or two of my own. As soon as my concoction started simmering, my nose told me I’d created something good. Unless you have Hesser’s book and the time to make her stock, take 20 minutes or so [most of it just keeping an eye on the simmering pot] to make my doctored broth. Your nose will thank you.

Also, Hesser makes her version with a whole chicken cut into quarters. I used thighs and drumsticks because we like their meaty juiciness.

Braised Chicken with Scallion Purée
Serves 4
Adapted from The Cook and the Gardener

For Terry’s doctored broth:
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
4 black peppercorns

For the chicken and scallion purée:
1 tablespoon canola oil
8 pieces of chicken—4 drumsticks, 4 thighs
salt, freshly ground black pepper
24 scallions, trimmed [leaving as much green as possible], sliced into 1/4-inch pieces, divided
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 medium to large potatoes [about 1 pound], peeled and cut into large chunks
3 cups Spring Stock or Terry’s doctored broth [or homemade stock or water]
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Make the broth. Combine broth and 1 cup of wine in a medium stock pot and bring to a boil. While it’s heating, “bruise” the rosemary sprig by rolling a rolling pin or the side of a glass over it to release its flavorful oils. Add to pot. Lightly bash the garlic clove with the side of a knife, remove the skin and add garlic clove to pot, along with the bay leaf and peppercorns. When broth comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool slightly, then strain into a bowl and discard solids. You should have about 3 cups of wonderfully fragrant broth.

Cook the chicken. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large lidded skillet over medium high flame [I used a 5-quart sauté pan]. Add oil to pan, then add chicken, skin side down and sauté until it is very brown, but not burned, about 10 minutes. Swirl the pan occasionally to make sure oil is in contact with all chicken to avoid scorching. Toward the end of the 10 minutes, reduce heat to medium. Turn chicken and scatter two-thirds of the sliced scallions over and around it [this is why you reduced the heat a moment ago, to not burn the scallions]. Brown second side of chicken for about 5 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a plate. Spread scallions around pan and cook for another minute or so. Add 1/3 cup of wine and stir, scraping up browned bits. Reduce wine by half. Return chicken to pan, along with any juices. Add potatoes and enough broth to come about two-thirds up the side of the chicken [if you don't have enough broth, add water]. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, braising chicken for about 45 to 55 minutes, until potatoes are completely cooked.

Make the scallion purée. Heat oven to 175ºF. When chicken is done, transfer it to a plate and place in oven to keep warm. Strain the braising juices and reserve. Transfer potatoes and scallions to food processor and pulse a few times until potatoes are just crushed [as Hesser says, "pulsing any longer will turn the mixture into a starchy goo"]. Remove blade from processor and stir in cream with a spatula. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover processor with dish towel to keep purée warm.

Transfer juices to sauce pan and reduce over high heat to a concentrated, highly flavored jus, about 1 cup of liquid. Lower heat to medium, add remaining sliced scallions and simmer until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.

To serve, spread purée on serving dish and top with chicken. Spoon some of the jus with scallions over chicken. Serve, passing the remaining jus and scallions separately. You can also plate individual servings.

Kitchen Notes

So, how was it? This is simple, honest country cooking, farm fare with a French accent. It was delicious and satisfying, but not as complex as many French dishes are. Green onions were a key player, of course, but in a good way. The barely cooked scallions in the jus added brightness and a nice crunch; the jus pooled beautifully on the plate, surrounding the purée. And on an April night with temperatures in the low 40s, the whole meal chased away the chill.

Hungry for more simple, hearty French fare? Check out my Layered Pot Roast with Anchovies, Capers and Garlic from Karin’s first French cookbook recommendation, Backroad Bistros, Farmhouse Fare: A French Country Cookbook, or my Chicken with Lentils from the cookbook Bistro Chicken.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura April 15, 2009 at 2:50 pm

It is an absolutely bitter, cruel month. Although apparently more so in Chicago than in New York! I love the recipes in Amanda Hesser’s other book…the onion marmalade with goat cheese is enough to get me out of bed on a cruel April day. I got this one that you mention out of the library once but never cracked it open for some reason. I’ll be sure to give it another look!

Carolyn April 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Terry, this dish looks beautiful, and spot on for today’s weather in NJ. I like your chicken broth compromise! I’m a big fan of Amanda Hesser’s books, too.

Nancy April 15, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Serendipity! My local library (south side) actually owns this cookbook and I have checked it out before. But braised chicken is my problem. The flabby skin, the rubbery meat … I must be doing something wrong. Over the years I’ve learned not to braise a braised chicken recipe. I roast a whole bird and make whatever sauce (should result) on its own.

altadenahiker April 15, 2009 at 4:34 pm

boy, you take a pretty picture. Now I’m off to check out your website suggestions. OpenMouthInsertFork.blogspot.com is another one of my favorite foodies. Coincidentally, we live in the same town. Invite her to lunch and guess who brings the entree? (Unless you absolutely put your foot down.)

Terry B April 15, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Laura—If you like onion marmalade with goat cheese, you should try my chicken, goat cheese, arugula and apricot jam sandwich or my strangely popular bacon and marmalade sandwich. Seriously.

Carolyn—It’s warming up a little now in Chicago, so hang on. The warmer weather should come your way in a day or two.

Nancy—The trick, I think, is to not submerge the chicken, but just have the cooking liquid come about two-thirds up the side of it. Otherwise, you end up boiling it with the results you describe.

altadenahiker—I occasionally read Susan’s blog too. And lucky you!

Christina April 15, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Hi Terry B.

I’ve never thought of scallions as anything more than a condiment until recently, but now I’m enjoying playing with them in different ways. This Easter, I served slow braised scallions, that turned out melty and sweet and incredibly succulent. Wonderful.

Go ahead, call me obsessive. I can’t help it and I love being that way. There’s nothing more fun for me than raising food and then eating it. Woohoo!

Happy belated Easter, friend.

Amrita April 16, 2009 at 6:17 am

The skin crust on the chicken looks so crispy! YUM! Beautiful photography…

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet April 16, 2009 at 7:41 pm

This is another winner Terry! Where’s my plate? :D

Amanda Hesser April 17, 2009 at 4:56 am

Thanks for featuring one of my recipes — I haven’t made this chicken dish in a long time , and it was nice to be reminded of it. (By the way, I wish mine turned out as pretty as yours!)

Sampada April 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm

What a great post…this sounds really delicious..i’m definitely going to give it a try….uphere in U.S. i always have a hard time trying to find ingredients…one of my friend introduced me to a great resource http://www.myethnicworld.com and i thought that i can pass great along as well.

altadenahiker April 17, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Good lord, was that really Amanda Hesser? How exciting!

Terry B April 17, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Christina—Did you photograph the braised scallions? I’d love to see a recipe.

Thanks, Amrita!

Kim—I could ask the same of you for some of your posts!

Amanda Hesser[!]—As the Cowardly Lion said when the Wizard gave him his courage, “Gosh, folks, I’m speechless!” Well, not exactly—thanks so much for stopping by. And for the great cookbook that inspired this post!

Sampada—This comment really belongs with the post on new websites, etcetera; there are absolutely no ingredients in this dish you can’t get in any supermarket. But what the heck, I’m too lazy to move it.

altadenahiker—No kidding! How cool is that?

katrina April 20, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Oh, that scallion puree is perfect! That and your doctored broth will be next up for trying. Thanks so much for such a lovely treat!

Christina April 21, 2009 at 3:49 am

I took your suggestion and posted the scallion recipe.

Happy day!

Terry B April 21, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Thanks, katrina! I’m definitely going to use my doctored broth in future recipes—it really added some nice flavor.

Christina—Those sound delicious! Everybody, check out Christina’s Sweet Braised Whole Scallions, oven braised with butter and fresh herbs. This recipe gives green onions, usually a bit player, a well-deserved starring role.

Nicole (Cooking After Five) April 21, 2009 at 11:21 pm

I’m always looking for new ways to make chicken exciting. I’m sure I’ll be trying this recipe soon – it looks delicious!

Carey April 26, 2009 at 4:42 am

Scott had a hankering for a nice red wine tonight, but I was hell-bent on trying this dish and had the lovely scallions dancing on my taste-buds. So…. I decided to try it – substituting pinot noir for the dry white wine in the body of the sauce. I made a fresh loaf of no-knead bread and prepared a pear, blue cheese and candied walnut salad to finish the meal. It was good, but we want more garlic- might have to do with the wine… looked beautiful- and now we want to have a do-over with a nice white burgundy!
thanks for the ideas!

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