Crisp, dry hard cider combines with fresh sage, garlic and chicken broth to create a deliciously complex sauce without a hint of apple, for Cider-Braised Chicken with Cipollinis and Sage. Recipe below.
When we were recently invited to a dinner pairing food with super-premium American hard ciders, I planned to enjoy the food and be a good sport about the cider. I don’t drink beer and am not a real fan of apple juice either, so I merely hoped I could make it through the evening, politely sipping without openly grimacing in the presence of our hosts, Crispin Cider Company.
I needn’t have worried. The four ciders we sampled were delicious. Unlike many ciders, Crispin hard ciders are not styled as a traditional “sweet beer” beer alternative. They are crisp and clean, not sweet and sticky, and meant to be served over ice. From our first sip of their European-style brut—our favorite of the bunch—we knew we’d found a refreshing, light alternative to our go-to summer drink, pinot grigio.
Crispin ciders are naturally fermented using apple juice from West Coast apples, not concentrate, and contain no added malt, grape wine or spirit alcohol. The ciders’ flavors are then smoothed with pure apple juice or with natural sugar sources such as organic honey or maple syrup, depending on the variety.
Headquartered in Minneapolis, but with its cidery in northern California, Crispin Cider is now available in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New York and New Jersey. And they seem to do well in each new market they enter. When I mentioned them to an owner of a suburban Chicago wine store, he said, “Oh, they’re huge.”
The dinner was held at Dunlays on the Square, in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, stumbling distance from our apartment. Pairing foods with wines can be tricky enough, but Dunlays on the Square chef David Payne did an amazing job of matching food with the four different ciders. The description of the courses won’t do them justice, but here they are: House Cured Bacon and Apple Salad, with arugula, grape tomatoes, shaved reggiano and balsamic dressing; Pan Seared Wild Pacific Halibut, with quinoa salad and beurre blanc; Herb Roasted Pork Loin, with cider vinegar-braised cipollini onions and puréed parsnips; and Rustic Apple Tart, with cinnamon ice cream.
Yeah, they pretty much had to roll us out of there. But I left with more than a happy, full stomach. I decided that whatever I cooked with whichever Crispin cider, cipollini onions would be involved.
Cider-Braised Chicken with Cipollinis and Sage
8 cipollini onions, peeled but whole [can substitute shallots—see Kitchen Notes]
8 pieces chicken [I used drumsticks and thighs]
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil [plus extra, if needed]
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped [2 tablespoons—or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried sage]
1-1/2 cups dry hard cider [I used Crispin Brut]
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Extra sage leaves for garnish, optional
A quick note: To make cipollinis easier to peel, blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then plunge them into iced water to stop cooking. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Heat large lidded skillet over medium-high flame. Add oil. When it is shimmering, brown chicken thoroughly on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer chicken to plate and reduce heat to medium-low. If chicken produced a lot of fat, spoon off all but 2 tablespoons [mine was lean—I actually had to add a little more oil].
Add cipollinis to pan and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, turning frequently to avoid burning, until beautifully browned and slightly softened. Add garlic and sage and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring to avoid burning. Add cider and broth to pan and raise heat to bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Return chicken to pan, reduce heat to simmer and partially cover pan. Braise until chicken is thoroughly cooked and cipollinis are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
Transfer chicken and cipollinis to platter and tent with foil. Put cornstarch is a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons cold water. Whisk to combine. Gradually add 2 or 3 tablespoons of cider/broth mixture from the pan to slightly warm cornstarch mixture [this step will help prevent from clumping when added to the pan]. Whisk cornstarch mixture into liquids in pan, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until sauce is slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. [Don’t overcook—it will suddenly thin out again.]
Either plate the chicken, two pieces and two cipollinis per plate, and spoon the sauce over, or bring the platter to the table, first adding sage leaves as garnish, and pass the sauce separately.
Cipollini onions—not always easy to find, but worth it. I found them at Whole Foods and at Chicago grocery store chain Treasure Island. You can also find them in Italian markets. Do seek them out—they are wonderfully sweet and add a nice visual extra to the plate. If you can’t find them, you can use 4 or 5 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise. The taste will be different, though, and they may not hold together as well as the cipollinis will.