One of Dan’s oldest (but still younger than him!) and dearest friends bought him the cookbook “French Classics Made Easy,” in honor of his birthday and our of-a-lifetime trip to Paris. (Thanks Carrie!) She’s the kind of friend who never forgets a birthday and always makes you feel like the funniest person in the room (even though she actually is the most funny person in the room at any given time.) This chicken dish — “poulet au vinaigre de xérès” — is the first recipe we’ve tried from the book, but it certainly won’t be the last. Not only was it easy to make with simple ingredients — chicken thighs, butter, olive oil, onion, sherry vinegar, shallots, garlic, white wine, tomato paste, parsley and salt & pepper — but it genuinely tasted like a classic French dish, with rich, complex and buttery flavors. This dish evokes the same qualities as a good, lasting friendship — satisfying and familiar, yet memorable and significant — all with minimal effort.
As with most dishes incorporating a sauce, it helps to measure out and prepare your ingredients ahead of time, since the finished product will come together pretty quickly at the end. Cut an onion in half, then cut one of the halves in half again. (Save the other half for another dish.) Peel and finely chop the shallot and mince 2 cloves of garlic (these will go into the sauce at the same time.) Finely chop fresh parsley for garnish.
The original recipe calls for a whole chicken, quartered, or 4 chicken breasts. That’s a lot of chicken for 2 people and we generally prefer chicken thighs, so we used thighs instead. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs would probably work best, but bone-in, skin-on thighs are fine if that’s all you can find. Trim off any visible fat (keep the skin on for now, but you’ll discard it later) and season the chicken generously on both sides with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet, melt the butter and heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
Place the chicken in the skillet and brown it on both sides — about 3-4 minutes per side.
Depending on how much fat the chicken renders, spoon off some (not all) of the excess fat (to keep the finished dish from being too greasy.)
A handy tip for removing and disposing of the excess grease — lay a piece of foil in a small bowl and spoon the fat into the bowl. Once the grease cools and congeals a bit, simply ball up the foil and throw it in the trash.
Back to the chicken — add the onion halves to the skillet, cover the skillet and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken to a plate and pour off and reserve any pan juices (easiest to just pour or spoon from the skillet into a small (heat-safe) bowl.) Leave the onions in the skillet and add the sherry vinegar. Turn up the heat a bit and cook until almost all the vinegar evaporates — about 2-3 minutes. (According to the original recipe, you can use good balsamic or red wine vinegar if you can’t find sherry vinegar.)
Add the shallot, garlic, wine and reserved pan juices to the skillet and cook for about 1-2 minutes, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then return the chicken to the skillet, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through — about 10 minutes.
Remove the chicken to a plate (remove and discard the skin, if any, at this point) and tent with foil to keep it warm. Remove and discard the onion halves. (Actually, you could probably incorporate them into the finished dish somehow, but I didn’t because the recipe said discard and I am nothing if not a strict recipe-follower — at least the first time I cook something.)
Add the tomato paste to the sauce and cook for about 1-2 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the salt & pepper if necessary. At this point, the sauce should be the consistency of light cream. If it’s not thick enough, turn up the heat to help it reduce.
Off the heat, stir in a tablespoon of butter and the chopped parsley.
Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve. We served ours that night with roasted potatoes and sauteed okra. Sure, we could have served a more appropriately “French” side dish (haricots verts?), but it’s sauce that makes this meal deliciously French. And in addition to the decadent flavors, it’s the fact that the recipe came from a thoughtful gift from a good friend that makes it a favorite.
Chicken with Sherry Vinegar
- 4 chicken thighs
- 1 ½ tablespoons butter (divided)
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- ½ an onion, cut in half
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or balsamic or red wine vinegar)
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley for garnish
- salt & pepper
- Trim the chicken of visible fat and generously season on both sides with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt ½ tablespoon butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown on both sides — about 3-4 minutes per side. Spoon off (and discard) any excess rendered fat.
- Add the onions to the skillet, cover and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes.
- Remove the chicken to a plate. Pour or spoon off and reserve the pan juices. Leave the onions in the skillet and add the vinegar. Turn up the heat and reduce until almost all the vinegar is evaporated — about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the shallots, garlic, wine and reserved pan juices to the skillet and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the skillet, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through — about 10 minutes.
- Remove the chicken to a plate (remove and discard the skin, if any) and tent with foil to keep warm.
- Add the tomato paste to the sauce in the skillet and cook for 1-2 minutes. The sauce should be the consistency of light cream. Turn up the heat to help reduce and thicken if necessary.
- Off the heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and the parsley. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve.