A Winter’s Tale – Chicken Fricassée à la Marché des Lices

Winter in Rennes is one of contrasts, a mix of warm Atlantic breezes that smell of the sea, Nor’wester storms that shake chimneys and rattle windows, cold driving rain that stings your face, then bright sun and rainbows five minutes later, as the pavement glistens to the point of hurting your eyes… go out to the coast and things get even wilder.

This kind of weather calls for food to warm you up and dry you out. Pots of stew that you can heat and reheat for a few days. This recipe takes basic everyday produce from the market and things that you find all over Brittany to make a great stew. This a simple and rustic dish.

It is easy to focus on our region’s maritime bounty. The Marché de Lices is one of the best public seafood markets I have seen in the world! However, you can’t ignore the fact that Brittany is also tremendously agricultural. The proliferation of wonderful small farms and producers makes Brittany a hub for pork, fowl, milk products, grains and old school vegetables that are back in style, plus much more from the land.

As a matter of fact, according to many of my Breton friends, seafood wasn’t eaten that often or at all. Certainly not today’s more refined styles. Plus, the sea was dangerous and anything but romantic for North Atlantic fisherman. Many died at sea. Breton language songs and laments, known as gwerziou are filled with epic stories and forlorn wives staring out to sea. So, when the fishermen made it home, anything but fish to eat would be welcome.

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Around Rennes we have a whole bunch of excellent small scale poultry farmers. One of the best is Paul Renault’s Ferme de l’Entillère. M. Renault specializes in indigenous varieties such as the Coucou de Rennes. For this dish, he didn't recommend anything so fancy, just a good free range chicken. 

Also, Brittany is apple country, so rather than using wine for this dish, it is the apple rather than the grape that is the base of this fricassee. Choose a dry but, fruity cider. Too much extra sugar will make the stew heavy.

INGREDIENTS FOR 4 TO 6 SERVING

  •  One 4 lbs chicken
  •  cup of flour
  • Neutral oil – (canola, sunflower, etc..)
  • 2 oz salted butter
  •  2 oz of Calvados or hard apple brandy
  • 2 bottles of hard cider
  • One thick slice of smoked bacon, or pork belly
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large apple (get the crisp and tart kind)
  • Parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Dried Herbs (3 Bay Leaves, tbsp of Thyme and Marjoram)
  • 1/2 cup of good thick crème fraiche or sour cream

For the roasted root vegetables

  • 1 good sized bulb of Celery Root
  • 6 potatoes
  • 2 apples
  • 1 tbsp dried sage

Instructions

  1. Cut the chicken into 8 to 10 pieces, or have it cut by your butcher

  2. Mix flour with a few turns of the pepper mill and a pinch of salt, lightly dredge your chicken pieces in flour 

  3. Get the oil hot but not smoking, brown the chicken pieces on all sides in a cast iron pot, set aside
  4. Rough chop the onion 
  5. Skin and cut the apples into ½ inch cubes
  6.  Cut the bacon into small chunks
  7. Melt the butter in the oil from the browning process
  8. Sweat the onions, apple cubes and bacon until soft and the bacon browned
  9. Place the chicken pieces back in the pot with onions, apples and bacon cook for five minutes, stirring and coating the chicken
  10. Add the Calvados and flambé
  11. Cover the chicken with a bottle of cider – reserve the other bottle to add more if needed
  12. Add the bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, cover and simmer for 30 minutes
  13. Meanwhile preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F
  14. Place your pot in the oven and bake for another 30 minutes

Vegetables

  1.  Skin the potatoes, celery root and apples
  2. Cut them in 1/2  to 1 inch cubes
  3. Sprinkle with oil and dried sage
  4. Salt and pepper
  5. Bake for 30 minutes

Finish the cooking

  1.  Remove the chicken from the oven, the meat should be falling from the bones.  Place pot on stove top – remove chicken pieces and set aside to keep warm
  2. The sauce should be rather liquid. Simmer until it reduces by half
  3. Add the crème fraiche, mix well until smooth and slightly thick
  4. Add the chicken back to the stew and simmer slowly for 10 minutes
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste if necessary
  6. Chop fresh parsley and a bit more fresh apple (this will add some crunch and acidity )
  7. Serve the stew hot with parsley and fresh apple chunks added at just before serving. The roasted root vegetables and apples should be soft. Top with the chicken and cider gravy.

About the cider :

With recipes like this it’s best to serve the same wine, beer or in this case cider that went into the dish. For the Chicken à la Marché de Lices, I selected a cider made by a farmer from the western tip of Brittany, from the town of Fouesnant. At the Marché de Lices you can find farmers that sell some cider on the side like this one. Alain Bernard doesn’t only make cider, but grows vegetables and fruit on his totally organic farm.

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For me Fouesnant, in the appellation (AOC) Cornouaille, has some of France’s best producers of hard cider. While difficult to find outside of the region, some of them do make it out of the country and can be found in the states and the UK. I doubt that you can find this one, but you can definitely find the same style cider.

Bernard’s cider is very dry and has a slightly bitter, but refreshing aftertaste. That’s what I love in good cider, they are not unlike really good wheat beers. Sometimes, when they are made with more alcohol, (upwards of 5%) they can be quite similar to Belgium Lambic beers. What I really like about this one is how deep the color is and how much apply fruit is packed into the bottle, without being sweet. When you get a real farmers cider you have to drink it fast. They often have no preservatives whatsoever and they oxidize quickly, turning brown or even black! So, drink up!

Just a quick word about different kinds of cider, they run from boen dry to very sweet, kind of like sparkling wine. I prefer extra brut, or brut which are the driest, but you can find demi-sec (half dry) and doux (sweet). You can drinks these like wine, with desserts, nuts, etc... 

Try to find hard ciders, they are becoming popular around the world these days. In coming weeks we’ll do some cider tasting in French Cornwall and the Vallée de la Rance just north of Rennes, (another great region for apples). We will tell you all about it where you might be able to get your hands on some real cider.