Oh, happy fall. Like with many folks I’ve spoken to here and there in the past couple weeks–friends and strangers at the post office alike–fall is a favorite time of year. It ushers in cooler nights and breezes, colorful leaves on the trees, and that unmistakeable smell… of fall. I liken this to the scent of apple cider. It’s somewhat earthy but sweet. Of course, fall is when we see the annual harvest of apples, and cider is somewhere not too far wafting in the air.
I gathered ’round some “team players” that I thought fitting for the fall atmosphere, along with apples and their freshly pressed cider. Thinking flavors alone, I fell upon carrots, onions, turnips… and sake and miso, for some reason.
These ingredients all share a uniting theme of sweetness, but in very different ways, and with different nuances along with each. Apples are also acidic; onions are weirdly pungent; turnips are awfully bitter; miso is incredibly salty; and sake is boozy to boot. And chicken, braised with skin and bone, is generously rich and savory enough to coddle all these flavors under its helm. I love a comforting fall dish with chicken.
That cozy familiarity you feel with chicken is what can guide you on this pretty strange path of the tastebuds. The eventual sauce that’s reduced from the braising liquids is an amalgam of it all: potent richness, saltiness, sweetness, acidity and slight bitterness into one brown liquid that coats the whole dish. A dab of butter stirred in doesn’t hurt at all in coddling the mixture, too.
Rather than a stew of indiscernible “stuff” with chicken poking out, I wanted to showcase these turnips, carrots and onions separately from the sauce. This can be achieved by starting out with a very rough chop, or rather, deliberate wedges of the vegetables. I cut the carrots into large wodges using the technique known in Asian cuisines as “roll-cutting,” which is handy with Asian eggplant. You basically turn the carrot on a board before each bias-cut is made, creating irregular, pointed chunks. The turnips (I’d found some beautiful golden turnips from Evolutionary Organics’ farmstand at Grand Army Plaza’s Greenmarket, which are less bitter than most purple ones) were simply cut to wedges, skin on. Although I’d entertained adding chunks of apple to the stew, these crisp apples we find in early fall seemed best suited to garnishing the finished dish with, in matchsticks for texture and acidity.
The braising liquids were threefold: sake first, to deglaze the pan after browning the chicken, then a slurry of the apple cider with a small scoop of miso paste. I used red miso, although you could easily substitute in white (or shiro) miso paste. Red miso is more earthy and potent, and seemed fitting for an animal protein-based dish during the fall.
This dish could be easily made in the winter, too, thanks to the year-round availability of turnips, carrots and onions. For now, it’s a great way to ease into the colder months.
Chicken Braised with Sake, Miso and Cider
(makes 2-3 servings)
2 – 2 1/2 lbs chicken pieces such as legs, thighs and breasts
1 tablespoon butter
2 small turnips, cut to wedges
2 medium-sized carrots, cut to 1/2 – 1″ chunks
1 large onion, cut to large wedges
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sake
1 teaspoon red miso paste
1 cup apple cider
salt and white pepper to taste
Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season all over with salt and white pepper. Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid (such as a Dutch oven). Once the butter begins to froth a little, place down the chicken pieces in a single layer so that each one has direct contact with the pan. Don’t move for 1-2 minutes. Peek underneath a piece and if gently browned, carefully flip the pieces over to brown the opposite sides, another 2 minutes. Once both sides are golden-brown, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
Wipe excess oils from the pan with a paper towels and arrange the turnips, carrots and onions. Season with salt and pepper and let cook, without stirring, 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir, and continue cooking for another minute. Return to the chicken to the pan and add the sake. Stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits, and bring the sake to a boil for 1-2 minutes. In a separate small bowl, combine the miso paste with a small amount of the apple cider. Mix until thoroughly blended and smooth. Mix in the remaining apple cider, and add the mixture to the pan. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to a steady simmer and cover. Cook covered 20 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking uncovered for another 5-10 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken when a thermometer is inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 160.
Remove the chicken and the vegetable pieces from the liquids and set aside. Strain the braising liquids in a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Return the strained liquid to the pan and bring to a boil. Let boil until the sauce has reduced by about half, and has a slightly thickened consistency. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired. To serve, arrange the chicken and vegetables on each plate and pour the sauce liberally over each. Serve immediately.
(for 2-3 servings)
2 1/2 lbs chicken (at $4.99/lb): $12.50
2 turnips (at $2/lb): $1.00
2 carrots (at $2.50/bunch): $0.50
1 onion (at $1/lb): $0.40
1 cup apple cider: $1.00
1/2 cup sake: $0.75
2 cloves garlic, 1 Tb butter, salt, pepper: $0.50
Six brownie points: A hearty main course of chicken, this dish is great to serve alone or as part of a larger multi-course meal. A side of simply sauteed greens or a salad would help round out its nutrition. But its generous portion of turnips and carrots will provide Vitamin C, Vitamin A and fiber. On the cons, there is ample natural sugars from the braising liquids and cholesterol from the skin-on chicken, but eaten in moderation (and in good ratio to the veggies, which these help flavor), it’s only a slight, seasonal indulgence.
Seven maple leaves: You can easily find carrots, onions, turnips and pastured chicken any time of the year, making it an accessible local dish wherever you live. But apple cider is enjoying its heyday this time of year, freshly pressed from orchards all around the country. Get it while you can, and have fun cooking with it!