For Tuesday night’s dinner I unearthed a recipe I haven’t used in years. And I think I’ve only cooked it once, for our friend Aaron (and maybe my mom?) when Matt and I were living on Shepard street, just outside Harvard Square. It’s the only recipe I have that calls for juniper berries, which means that I am still using the same jar of junipers that I bought many years ago for the last time this dish was made. Clearly, I am not one of those people who diligently disposes of herbs and spices on a regular basis and replaces them with fresh ones. I’ve heard the shelf-life for most spices is about a year if you want them to be pungent and bright. I’m mildly ashamed to tell you that my jar of cardamom pods has outlived three apartments. I just can’t bring myself to throw edible (if not quite fresh or good) food away.
Ironically, I chose this recipe not to get rid of three tiny juniper berries (seriously? three?), but to use up a six-pack of porter that I bought to braise short ribs a few weeks ago. For anyone who knows me, this sounds very strange. You’re probably thinking, “Why don’t you drink the beer?” And even more curiously, “How is it that you haven’t already drunk the beer?” Good question. It turns out I’m just not a huge fan of porters. (I can hear your shock reverberating through cyberspace.) I was a little shocked to discover this, too. In addition to beer, this recipe also calls for gin (hence the juniper berries), which makes for a pretty boozy bird.
And if that doesn’t sound delicious enough, imagine this served over hot, buttery egg noodles. Ah! I am such a sucker for egg noodles. They were the vehicle for all of my childhood comfort foods – turkey tetrazzini, beef stroganoff, red pepper goulash, and both savory mushroom and sweet raisin-spotted noodle kugel. Tuesday’s dinner, while not quite as homey as mom’s comfort food, did not disappoint, despite my many attempts to sabotage the recipe. This included halving the number of shallots, taking the chicken out of the pan before adding the gin, swapping out yogurt for sour cream and then quadrupling it, and pouring far too much vinegar over the top. I literally upended the bottle over the pan without a measuring spoon anywhere in the vicinity. Oops. If all that didn’t manage to ruin this dish, nothing will. So please, go buy yourself some egg noodles and beer and prepare to have your hearts and bellies warmed.
Chicken with Dark Beer by Anna Willen
1. Combine first 3 ingredients; sprinkle evenly over both sides of chicken. Heat butter and oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; sauté 5 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove pan from heat. Pour gin into one side of pan; return pan to heat. Ignite gin with a long match; let flames die down. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.
2. Add celery, carrot, shallots, and juniper berries to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms. Place thyme, parsley, and bay leaf on a double layer of cheesecloth. Gather edges of cheesecloth together; tie securely. Add cheesecloth bag to pan. Return chicken to pan, nestling into vegetable mixture. Stir in beer; bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the meaty parts of chicken registers 160°. (Breasts may cook more quickly. Check them after 35 minutes, and remove them when they’re done; keep warm.)
3. Discard cheesecloth bag. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Place pan over medium heat; stir in yogurt. Cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated (do not boil, as the yogurt may curdle). Remove from heat; stir in vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning, if desired. Place 1 chicken breast half or 1 drumstick and 1 thigh on each of 4 plates; top each serving with about 3/4 cup sauce and vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.