This dish was inspired by a random flip through one of the many cookbooks that line a high shelf just outside the kitchen at the restaurant where I work. The (old) book was a survey of regional French cooking, and one of the recipes I stumbled upon was for a dish that combined potatoes, bacon and dried fruit into a kind of gratin or casserole. I decided to adapt those flavors into a rich, satisfying braise that makes for a great unfussy meal.
1 roaster chicken, broken down into 8 pieces
1 T vegetable oil
8 oz slab bacon, cut into lardons
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 C dry white wine
3 C good-quality chicken stock, or make your own (instructions follow)
1 1/2 lbs fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2 C dried prunes, roughly chopped
1/2 C dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 T dijon mustard
1 T unsalted butter
2 T fresh chopped parsley
salt and black pepper, to taste
First off, if you want your dish to have that extra little nudge of flavor that will have people wondering what exactly you did to make it so delicious, make your own chicken stock using the castoffs from butchering your whole chicken. It couldn’t be easier: Throw the chicken back, neck and any trim onto a roasting tray with 2 small sliced carrots, 2 sliced ribs of celery and 1 sliced onion. Roast in a hot oven until the bones are well browned and the vegetables have caramelized. Place in a pot, being sure to scrape in all the brown bits from tray, and add 5 cups of water, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme and any stems you have from the parsley in this recipe. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for a couple hours. Strain and voilà – better chicken stock than you can ever get in a store. And even if you don’t have time to make the stock before you make this dish, use the bones to make it anyway, freeze it, and you’ll have it for next time.
In a medium-warm wood oven, heat a roasting pan large enough to hold all the chicken. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Add the vegetable oil to the pan and then add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Brown the chicken until golden, then flip over and do the same on the other side. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
Add the bacon lardons to the pan and slowly render until the bacon is browned and crispy. If the bacon has given off a lot of fat, drain off the excess, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pan. Add the sliced onion to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sweat, stirring often, until the onions are soft, about 6 minutes. Add the white wine and allow it to reduce by three-quarters.
Once the wine is reduced, add the chicken stock, potatoes, dried fruit and mustard to the pan. Bring to a simmer. Taste the liquid for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Nestle the chicken pieces back into the pan skin side up. Cover the pan with foil and cook for 15 minutes. You want the liquid in the pan to be just simmering. If it is boiling hard, your oven is too hot and your chicken is going to be dry. Try putting the pan on top of a rack so that it’s not in direct contact with the oven floor.
After 15 minutes, remove the foil and check the potatoes for doneness. If they are starting to get tender, remove the foil and allow the braise to cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are completely soft. Otherwise, put the foil back on and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes before removing the foil.
When your potatoes and chicken are both tender, remove the pan from the oven. If your braise has a lot of fat floating on the top, use a spoon or small ladle to skim off the excess and discard. Remove the chicken from the pan and stir in the butter and parsley. Put the chicken back, adjust the seasoning, and you’re good to go. Serve over rice or noodles if you wish, or just enjoy your savory-sweet-smoky concoction as is with a nice saison-style beer or grüner veltliner near at hand.