Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chicken à la Créole, from Haiti: to accompany the Creole Rice

I first encountered this savory and pretty way of fixing chicken legs in Haiti, along with similarly prepared bone-in “steaks” sliced crosswise from frozen turkey legs. But with some research, I found that dishes called 'Creole Chicken', named after the people of French ancestry born in the overseas colonies, are relatively common in many parts of the French-speaking tropics. The term typically describes chicken braised in a savory sauce of peppers, onions, tomatoes, and spices. The dish is fairly economical.

The recipe offered here reproduces the braised chicken legs I enjoyed in Haiti. The appearance of the drumsticks is neater than usual. The tips of the leg bone and the irregular skin are chopped off with a cleaver or kitchen sissors, making roughly football-shaped pieces. And the bone, skin, and other trimmings are quickly simmered into a broth with which the chicken is moistened as it braises.

In a recent blog posting (3/18/08) I gave a recipe for creole rice. This chicken is a good match for it. The combination would go well with a moderately light-bodied dry red wine, such as a Côtes du Rhône, a Spanish Garnacha, or a chianti.

The recipe serves six generously, and should be accompanied by a rice dish. A salad of avocadoes and loose leaf or "Boston" lettuce dressed with a mild vinaigrette or oil and vinegar would enhance it nicely.

Chicken Legs à la Créole Tim

12 large or 18 smaller chicken drumsticks
1 medium-large onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored and chopped
2 medium-large cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 inch fresh ginger, sliced very thinly then minced
2 medium tomatoes, quartered, seeds pushed out with your finger, and chopped
2 tablespoons melted chicken fat or olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme
3/4 cup chicken broth (from the skin and bone tips from the chicken)
Minced parsley for garnish

Pull the skin off the drumsticks, and with a heavy knife, cleaver, or kitchen scissors cut the lower part of the leg bone off the drumsticks just where the flesh thins out, typically 1/2 to 1 inch from the end. Sprinkle the chicken lightly with salt and set aside. Place the skin and bone pieces with 2-1/2 cups of water, and simmer to make broth while the main dish is being prepped. Skim off the fat (part of which can be used for frying the onions). Part of the broth will be used in this dish, and the remainder can be cooked into the rice dish in place of an equal quantity of water. Prepare the onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes.

In a large, preferably non-stick, frying pan over medium high heat fry the onion in the chicken fat or olive oil, stirring frequently and scraping the pan gently, until the onions are just beginning to turn golden. Add the pepper and fry, stirring frequently, for two minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir and fry for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and fry, stirring frequently, for another two minutes. Add the chicken, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon of salt, and fry, turning the chicken frequently, until the outside fully loses its raw color. Add the remaining seasonings and the broth. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally and turning the chicken, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a chicken piece is tender and does not show any pink inside or pink juice when pierced with a knife in the thickest part. If the sauce gets dry, add a little broth or water. As the chicken is cooking, taste the sauce and add salt if necessary, especially toward the end of cooking. Uncover the pan for the last several minutes for the sauce to thicken.

Sprinkle with a little minced parsley to serve. Accompany with a rice dish.


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