There are those tried and true recipes that have been around as long as I can remember. They are the recipes that I turn to because it's damp and dreary, or cold and snowy. They are the recipes I use as pure comfort food, or pure indulgence. Or, in the case of my French Chicken in Vinegar Sauce, it appears on my menu when it's snowing, the air is cold and blowy, and the only place for dinner is in front of a fire.
Occasionally, though, no matter how well I know a recipe, it's always entertaining (if not educational) to go back to the original to see how far I've strayed. This recipe has been around my kitchen since 1996, so you can imagine how surprised I was to find that I hold pretty true to the original. I've long stopped buying the boneless, skinless chicken thighs the recipe calls for since I like my meat to have some form and shape on the plate. But, having experimented with chicken breasts, I find that thighs and drumsticks work best.
I also brown and cook the thighs first, removing them to a plate and keeping them warm while I sauté the onions in the rendered fat from the chicken. Then the chicken goes back in, along with the wine and the ingredients for the sauce. The sauce these days is done strictly by taste, but as I’ve found in all my cooking, when you strike that balance between sweet and tart, salty and earthy, you instantly know it.
For fun this time I thought I'd cook straight from the recipe. Only minutes into the prep, and I couldn't help myself. I like the way I've adapted it over the years. Call it instinct-- or probably more like habit, now, but I'm far more at ease with my approach: a generous hand with the tomato paste, for the thick unctuousness it brings to the sauce; an aged balsamic vinegar for a more round, complex taste. Brown sugar is added only for balance. Wine and chicken stock? Whatever proportions I have on hand, seems to do the trick, but I rarely (if ever?) venture beyond the 1 cup mark. I like thick sauces.
The greatest delight this go 'round, however, came from a new recipe I spied on the box of the Polenta. The original recipe calls for a Pepper Spiked Polenta as an accompaniment, which I never make, substituting mashed potatoes for the polenta. (Quite frankly the 1996 version of the Polenta is more like mushy grits, rather than a good firm, gravy soaking kind of polenta that I prefer.) I adopted the approach for the grilled Polenta on the box, but still used the flavor enhancers of the original recipe.
To grill it – and this is brilliant – the recipe on the box of Polenta recommends using a broiler pan as a substitute for a grill pan. Preheat your broiler with the broiler pan in it, about 6 or 8 inches away from the broiler. Then, simply slice the polenta, give it a quick brush with some olive oil, place it on the broiler pan turning about every two or three minutes or so to heat it through. The hot broiler pan gives it those cool grill pan marks. Very nice.
French Chicken in Vinegar Sauce with Pepper-Spiked Grilled Polenta
adapted from the 1996 recipe in Cooking Light Magazine
1 ½ sweet onions, coarsely chopped
1 pound chicken thighs
½ cup white wine
½ cup low sodium chicken broth
3 generous tablespoons tomato paste
2 scant tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon (substituting a generous ½ teaspoon dried, rumbled between fingers to release the aromatic properties of the dried herb)
½ teaspoon brown sugar, or to taste
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down and sauté each side, about 4 to 5 minutes, until browned but not cooked through. Remove to a warm plate and keep warm. Reduce heat to medium.
Add the onion to the same skillet, and cook over medium heat about 5 minutes, and onion is lightly browned. Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, combine the wine and the chicken broth with the remaining ingredients.
Return the chicken to the skillet. Add the wine mixture to the skillet and cover. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Serve with Pepper-Spiked Grilled Polenta.
Pepper-Spiked Grilled Polenta
3 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups Polenta
1 tablespoon first press Olive Oil
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan Reggiano
Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly add the polenta, while stirring. Reduce the heat to medium and continue stirring for about 5 minutes, until polenta is thick and creamy. Remove from heat and add the olive oil, red pepper and Parmesan cheese. Pour polenta into a non-stick jellyroll pan and smooth with an off-set spatula. Let cool, then refrigerate.
Preheat broiler with broiler pan about 6 to 8 inches from the heat. Cut chilled polenta into desired size and lightly brush with olive oil. Place polenta on the broiler pan and broil for about 3 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and heated through.