As a cook, I don’t have much use for spring, being indifferent as I am to vegetables in all their many forms. (I prefer to only eat things with parents.) And fall, being the time of year when all the restaurants open, doesn’t do much for me either. No, winter and summer are big cooking seasons in the Ozersky household: the latter for grilling and the former for the big, deep, fatty braises that so please and clog my heart.
I am obsessed with braising. For one thing, it conforms to my natural rhythms. A burst of frenzied exertion, followed by several hours on the couch. It cooks while I sleep, and when it’s done, I turn it off and go back to watching television again. The thing is really only good when it’s lukewarm, and any man that made braised short ribs or lamb shanks because he was hungry would soon become apoplectic with frustration and hunger. No, you make the braise when you are full, or when you know that there is a pizza on the way. That way you can take your time.
Last night’s braise was my third in four days, and maybe the best of the lot. I picked up four Bell & Evans chicken quarters at the supermarket, thinking that I might roast them in a hot oven with 99X powder and some egg batter. Why not? But then the fricasee fever came over me, and when I got home,
I started looking around for things to cook it in. Two days earlier, I had used that bottle of Belgian abbey ale that had been sitting around, so I started rooting through the cupboard and found a whole bottle of red wine vinegar. That’ll do! was my thought. I had some mushrooms lying around decomposing in my rarely-touched vegetable draw, an old bunch of fresh thyme, and a beat-up old tomato. Of such things can you make a great dish, if you are lazy and have nothing better to do that sit around waiting for it to cook.
So: in went the chicken, long enough to get nice and brown; in went some garlic and mushrooms and tomato, which I stirred around over the craggy burned bits at the bottom of the pan; then in went the whole bottle of vinegar, and some chicken stock with it, and then the chicken and the thyme, and when it boiled, I turned it down, put on the lid, and forgot about it for about 45 minutes or so. Then I turned it off, and forgot it about it again.
When it was done, which is to say lukewarm, I took out the meat and the much rooms, picked the meat off the bones, threw the latter away, and poured off most of the delicious greasy liquid left in the pan. I reduced it and added butter and stirred it up into a thick sauce, and poured that over the pulled chicken. I was actually shocked that such a half-assed dish could be so good, and regretted only not having made a big pot of rice or couscous to serve this over. (Because, you know, I’m not fat enough.) The fricasee was proof that if you are lazy enough, and a have a bottle of something acidic, you too can make a rich and nourishing winter dinner. Who knows? If you wanted you could even throw some carrots in there. But that’s not my way.
Chicken in Red Wine Vinegar
4 chicken quarters (tomahawks)
2 tbsp olive oil
four sprigs fresh thyme
one sprig of rosemary or marjoram
1 12 oz bottle best-quality red wine vinegar
two tomatoes, canned or fresh, coarsely cut up and cored
½ cup cremini mushrooms, sliced
¼ pound high-quality pork or lamb sausage
2 cloves garlic, one minced and one whole
salt and pepper
2 tbsp butter
In a heavy dutch oven, heat up the olive oil.
Salt and pepper the chicken well on both sides. Brown well, taking care not to crowd the things. They need air around them so the steam can escape. When they are browned take them out. (They will still be raw)
Chop up one clove of garlic, the tomatoes and most of the mushrooms into the pan, mix it around and let it brown a little. Return the chicken to the pan.
Add the vinegar. Step back! A big plume of vinegar fumes will billow upward and hit you in the face.
Throw in the herbs and the other clove of garlic. Turn the heat down, and cover. Let cook on low for 45 minutes.
When you come back, take the chicken out, and most of the other stuff. Discard the herbs and cook down the vinegar. While it does that, pull the chicken off the bones. Add the remaining mushrooms.
When the vinegar has cooked down to about half a cup or so, throw in the butter and stir vigorously on heat. It’ll form a rich sauce which you can them pour over the chicken. If you want to make it look really nice, sprinkle some parsley or something on top. Done! Now go back to the couch with it.