Monday: Left-over Pot-au-feu with naked pizza
Tuesday: Parmigiano-Gilded Pasta, Green Salad
Wednesday: Chicken w/ “Cooked Wine” (Pollo al Vin Cotto)
Friday: Seared Tuna with ginger, soy and avocado –
Saturday: Crostini with ricotta, toasted speck, pickles, cheese, prosciutto, mustard. Pollo al Vin Cotto, Crispy English Potatoes, Green Salad, Apple Cake – Sandy O’Sullivan, Prosecco – Single-malt – Calvados
Sunday: Post-Steelers celebration at the Clark Bar
(happy Steelers fans, good beer, forgettable food – perfect in its limited way)
Last Saturday we dined with good friends and would have been happy with take-out pizza. We were, however, much happier because we ate Mario Batali’s Pollo Vin Cotto and had Sandy O’Sullivan’s apple cake for dessert.
Sandy’s cake (please see above for what remained of it after our dinner) is what I would call “Please-take-this-out-of-the-house-or-I will-keep-eating-it-until-I-burst-like-an-overfed-guppy” food. The sort of thing that you take just one more bite of and then leave improperly wrapped on the counter because you have decided to keep a fork on the plate, just in case, and the plastic wrap will not encompass the fork. And then, well, you need to check the mailbox and when you come in you take another bite. And, before that important business letter you have a cup of coffee and another bite or two . . . and to your shock (but not to your surprise) you have eaten the whole thing in half a day– enough calories to keep an aboriginal tribe alive for a month – sugar coursing through your veins, guilt through you conscience, and a wonderful memory of tart apples, sweet custard, and caramelized crust. You will have to apply to Sandy for the recipe, or you might take my approach – keep inviting her to dinner.
And now, as Monty Python would say, for something entirely different. What weighs over 300 pounds, is mainly orange and has an attitude as powerful as his cooking talent? Mario Batali, about whom I have not written, surprisingly.* I say surprisingly because his eloquence (“Antipasto can be as basic and yet sublime as a few slices of prosciutto or salami on a plate all by themselves, ringing in my head and on my tongue like a guitar solo by Jimi Hendrix . . .), his big personality (I appreciate people who are as loud as I am) and his brilliant cooking have helped me to create good meals for my family and friends.
Here is a crowd pleaser – his Pollo al Vin Cotto (Chicken in Cooked Wine) – the Italian answer to General Tso’s Chicken, but more sophisticated. There are two keys to this dish: 1. You must cook down the wine as he instructs to concentrate the flavor. 2. You must excuse yourselves from your guests (if you are following my cook-ahead instructions) for 15 minutes or so before serving, because you really want to cook the liquids down to a tangy glaze on the chicken and vegetables. If you don’t do this, you will have an edible meal that no one will remember by the next day. If you do this, people will never forget your Pollo al Vin Cotto.
The following recipe feeds about 4 – I doubled it on Saturday (had to use two pots) and we had plenty of leftovers.
Supplies: Procure a 3 lb. chicken cut into 8 pieces or 3 lbs of chicken thighs and/or drum sticks skin on and bone in ( a larger chicken is okay – but don’t go much beyond 4 lbs), Red wine (1 bottle), honey (1/2 C), 2 Cinnamon sticks, 3 cloves, olive oil (1/4 C), 1 large onion diced, 2 carrots diced, ½ C of green olives pitted and chopped (G.E. sells pitted Sicilian with spices), 3 TBS raisins, TBS capers drained (rinse, if the capers are the kind that come dry and salted), TBS pine nuts and 3 TBS blanched almonds toasted together, 1C Red Wine Vinegar, 1/2C sugar. Salt, Fresh ground black pepper, TBS red pepper flakes, and parsley for garnish.
Timing: This recipe takes about 75 – 85 minutes start to finish, provided you’ve brought your chicken to room temperature. The 85 minutes allows for two separate batches of chicken to be browned, if you have a large chicken (save the chicken wings for something else – they have little meat and they will take up a lot of room in the pan). If you’re cooking it for company, you can cook it through the first reduction of vin cotto and cover. Then you’ll need about 15 minutes to finish it.
Cooking the Wine: Make the vin cotto by whisking the wine, honey, cinnamon sticks and cloves together in a saucepan and bringing to a boil over high heat – reduce to a lively simmer, stir occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup (20 – 30 minutes). Let cool, remove cinnamon and cloves.
Cooking the Chicken: Mario recommends a sauté pan for the next step – but unless you have a very large one, I would use a Dutch oven. Dry the chicken and season both sides with salt. Heat the olive oil over medium-high (or slightly less if you are using a high BTU burner – call me, if this confuses you) until very hot (not burning – when the oil starts to move noticeably, it’s ready). Add the chicken to the pan skin-side down and brown on both sides (about 4 minutes per side – you want it nicely browned). Note: If the chicken pieces don’t fit in with room between each piece, do two batches – if you cram the chicken together it will steam, not brown.
Reduce the heat to medium (leaving the chicken in the pot) and add the carrots and onions and cook until deep golden brown (8-12 minutes). Add the olives, raisins, capers, pine nuts and almonds and mix well. Now add ½ C of the vin cotto to deglaze and then boil until reduced by half. You can cook to this point and hold until 15 or 20 minutes before serving. I would do this in late afternoon – if you cook it earlier in the day the chicken can gum up a bit, but it will still be good.
Add another ½ C vin cotto and bring to a boil. Meanwhile whisk the vinegar and sugar in a bowl, then add to the pan and cook, stirring, until the liquid has reduced to a glaze. You really want to reduce the liquid to glaze at this point – it produces a pleasingly sweet, tart chicken. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a warm platter or bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes and parsley, and serve.
* If you want to know more about Batali’s life or work ethic, or about the life of high-end commercial cooks in general, you should read Bill Buford’s Heat. Along with Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain’s memoir, it is a frightening look into the long hours, the pressure, the drugs, the drink – in general, a great reminder that, however you feel about your own occupation, you could have done worse.