American cider, Italian onions: Cider-Braised Chicken with Cipollinis and Sage

by Terry B on March 31, 2010

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.

crispin-cider-brutI 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
Serves 4

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
all-purpose flour
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.

Kitchen Notes

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.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa March 31, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Just had my first Crispin Cider last Sunday at the Green Eye. I was also suprised about how smooth & “unsweet” it was. It is a great summer sipper…good thing cus summer is almost here. I hope:)

Ed Schenk March 31, 2010 at 1:12 pm

I love all the flavors here!

Dani H March 31, 2010 at 3:56 pm

This looks SO good. Sorry, Terry, but now I’m so hungry that I have to head into my kitchen immediately. *waves bye*

Shamrocks and Shenanigans March 31, 2010 at 4:10 pm

This looks great and you could get away making this for company. What a mouthful the name is! Get your guests to say that five times fast! LOL

Terry B March 31, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Melissa—Sounds like summer will be here tomorrow, at least for a visit. Highs near 80 in April? I’ll take it!

Thanks, Ed!

Dani, I often say that constant hunger is an occupational hazard of writing food blogs—or reading them, for that matter.

Thanks, Shamrock and Shenanigans. Your Brown Sugar Cayenne Pork Chops sound delicious too!

Mimi March 31, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Oh, Terry. Oh, Terry. Oh my goodness. This really resonates with me. Must have.

I love hard cider, BTW. I had some great Pear Cider last trip to France, but the apple cider I had was less than pleasing. Glad to hear you like the Crispin Ciders. Are they gluten free? Sounds like they could be.


dick April 1, 2010 at 2:18 am

I got into using hard cider when I lived in NH. There were all sorts of good orchards around there and the cider was fabulous. So much you can do with it.

Terry B April 1, 2010 at 2:53 am

Hi, Mimi. Funny you should mention French cider. When we sampled the Crispin Brut, Marion was reminded of when she and our younger daughter, then 9 or 10, were in Paris. In every restaurant, waiters would bring out glasses of cider for our daughter, without being asked. Yes, all Crispin ciders are gluten-free—should have mentioned that, sorry.

Dick—While the success of this recipe has me interested in doing some more cooking with cider, I must admit, my main plan is to drink it, especially this summer!

Peg April 1, 2010 at 4:59 am

Do you mean to tell me that while the cidery is in Northern CA, they don’t actually sell the cider here? What gives?
I need Crispin Brut for this outrageous recipe I’m going to make!

Ocean April 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Where in Chicago can I buy the Crispin ciders?

Terry B April 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Peg—I was talking to one of the Crispin reps about the trials and tribulations of getting distribution in various states. One big issue is that each state’s liquor laws vary—sometimes it varies by counties as well. But they’re in good company. You can’t buy Jack Daniels where it’s made either.

Ocean—Actually, you can find it a lot of places in the Chicago area. Whole Foods and Binny’s stores to name a couple. Also at some Jewel-Osco stores, Cardinal Liquors, Armanetti’s, Foremost Liquors and other retailers. I’d start by asking where you usually shop for your beer, wine and other booze needs. And if you don’t plan to cook with it, but just want to taste it, you’ll find Crispin ciders in an impressive number of bars and restaurants around town.

Peg April 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Well, then, can I order it by mail?

Terry B April 1, 2010 at 4:27 pm

You’re asking questions above my pay grade, Peg. I’d suggest going to the Contact Us page of the Crispin website and asking them. You’ll find a phone number and an email address. I’m sure you’ll find them very responsive. Let me know how you fare!

Robyn April 4, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Cider, sage and onion… I can’t wait to try this.

Peg April 5, 2010 at 2:07 am

Email sent!
I’ll let you know what I find out.

Terry B April 5, 2010 at 4:50 am

Robyn, I’m so glad you stopped by! It gave us a chance to discover your beautiful blog. Interesting stories, gorgeous photography, delicious sounding recipes… We’ve bookmarked you already and will be back.

Excellent, Peg! In the meantime, I emailed one of the Crispin reps on your behalf. Between us, we should figure out a way for you to try it.

Lonesome Road Studio April 6, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I will definitely be looking for this in the Chicago area – I love a really good cider, and these sound wonderful.

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