An occasional series in which staff members share a reicpe that we turn to time and again:
As a child, I loved magic tricks. The simple ones, like card tricks, or the disappearing coin -- those were the best. I loved the way a common item could be used for such miraculous results.
I feel the same way about this chicken recipe. Who knew that a simple ingredient like carrot juice could create such a magical effect? Certainly not me, who despised the carrot juice my grandmother used to urge me to drink to improve my dreadful nearsightedness. "You don't see bunnies wearing glasses, do you?" she'd joke every time, nudging the glass full of thick, dark orange liquid closer to me. "Maybe it will make my ears grow long and furry," I'd reply every time, nudging the glass away from me.
A year ago, however, I was going through a cookbook by Laura Calder called "French Food at Home." Calder has a lovely, engaging writing style and a knack for choosing simple recipes that yield surprising results. Her recipes also frustrate me because many of them seem to lack just the barest little something -- maybe an extra pinch or two of a spice -- to brighten the flavor. My copy of her book is spattered from use, yet filled with little scribbled notes about adding a little of this or that to improve the dish.
Still, when I saw this recipe for chicken magically transformed by cooking it in carrot juice. I had to try it.
It was an immediate hit with my family. The chicken was browned to crisp up the skin and seasoned with herbs. Then ladles of carrot juice were slowly added and allowed to cook down to a caramelized, orangey glaze, as Calder aptly describes it. The syrupy juice gave the chicken a lovely amber sheen and a soft, subtle sweetness. But maybe a little too sweet, I thought. Calder wrote that she first saw this technique used for rabbit, and I suspect that the darker rabbit meat provided more flavor contrast. For milder chicken, the juice itself needed just the hint of peppery heat to give it some backbone.
So the next time I made the chicken, I added some red pepper flakes for the gentlest of kicks. It was the perfect sleight of hand. I served it to friends and they were confounded, trying to figure out exactly what ingredient created such a beautiful glaze and haunting flavor, all the while cleaning their plates.
I felt like a magician.
Carrot Juice Chicken
Adapted from "French Food at Home," By Laura Calder (William Morrow, 2003):
4 chicken leg quarters (leg and thigh attached), about 2 pounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
3 to 4 cups carrot juice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
In a saute pan, heat the oil until hot and brown the chicken well on all sides (working in batches, if necessary), about 20 minutes. Pour all but a tablespoon of fat from the pan and scatter the herbs over the chicken.
Now ladle in about 1 cup of the carrot juice and add hot pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until juice is reduced to a syrup. Turn the chicken. Ladle in another 1/2 cup and let it reduce. Continue adding the juice in 1/2-cup increments, turning the chicken occasionally, until it is tender and coated in a shiny, orangey glaze. When the chicken is cooked through and last ladle of juice has reduce to a sauce-like syrup, transfer the chicken to a serving platter, drizzle with the pan sauce and serve.
Per serving (including skin): 471 calories, 33 gm protein, 23 gm carbohydrates, 27 gm fat, 139 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 273 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber