Young Chicken Braised in Verjus with Baby Turnips, Herbs, and Golden Raisins

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Serves 4 | 1.5 hours active cooking time

This dish is drawn from an Italian Renaissance recipe. It is equally delicious with other spring vegetables: radishes, leeks, fava beans, English peas, morel mushrooms, and other combinations.

Ingredients

4 poussins (or substitute Cornish game hens or 2 small roasting chickens)
1/4 cup olive oil
12 baby turnips with greens attached, washed, and split in half lengthwise
1/2 pound pancetta, cut into small dice
8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 leeks, whites only, soaked in cold water to remove grit, drained, and cut into small dice
2 carrots, cut into small dice
2 stalks celery, cut into small dice
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
2 tablespoons cumin
1 teaspoon caraway
1 1/2 cups verjus
1/2 cup golden raisins
3 bunches dill, 2 bunches stripped of stem and rough chopped
2 bunches tarragon, one bunch stripped of stem and rough chopped
1 bunch mint, 1/2 bunch stripped of stem and rough chopped
1 bunch Italian parsley, 1/2 bunch stripped of stem and rough chopped
4 cups chicken stock (ideally, homemade)
1/2 cup creme fraiche
salt to taste

Recipe

Preheat oven to 325°F.

With sharp kitchen shears, spatchcock the poultry by cutting down the backbone, splaying the bodies flat, then cutting down through the breast bone with a sharp knife into halves. If using roasting chickens, cut each bird into 8 pieces. 

In a heavy-bottomed braising pan, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Season the baby turnips on the cut sides with salt, then sear in olive oil until deeply browned. Flip turnips over and brown the other side. Remove and set aside.

Pat dry chicken and season well with salt. Place chicken into the braising pan, skin side down, and sear until chicken skin is well browned and crisp. Remove and set aside.

Add pancetta and garlic to the pan, and turn the heat down to medium, rendering about 10 minutes. Add leeks, carrots, celery, and spices, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are wilted and turning translucent, but not browning.

Add verjus and raisins and bring to a simmer. Tie the whole, unstripped herbs into a bouquet garni and put in pan with chicken, baby turnips, and chicken stock. Bring back up to a simmer, first cover braised chicken with a piece of parchment, then cover pan with a tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil. Once covered, put pan into preheated oven and braise for 1 hour or until chicken is very tender. Chicken may be made in advance up to this point (indeed, the braise improves in flavor sitting overnight).

To serve, add creme fraiche and the stripped, rough-chopped herbs to the braise. Bring to a boil and reduce sauce, basting the chicken and turnips with the sauce until the sauce thinly coats a spoon. Taste, adjust salt level, and serve immediately.

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