In my not-so-new lifestyle down in the ‘burbs, a lot of chores – namely getting to and from work, washing dishes, and doing laundry – are easier than they were as a San Franciscan. I was reminded of my former life yesterday, when I dusted off my commuter bike, hauled it onto CalTrain, and pedaled around the city to attend a work event and visit with a friend who lives, naturally, at the top of a depressing hill.
I used to wake up at 5am nearly every morning to swim laps with an equally-ambitious friend before careening on said bike through morning rush hour traffic and narrowly catching the train down to Palo Alto. It was exciting and I loved it most of the time. In my 5am stupor, I’d often forget my lunch, leggings to wear under my skirt while biking, or my swimsuit. Only one of these could really deal a blow to my day, and given my love of food you can probably figure out which. Those homeless guys along Market Street have probably seen more than their fair share of my underwear collection.
Some things, though, stay the same. As I dodged sleepy drivers and potholes begging for an infusion of taxpayer dollars yesterday morning, I thought about dinner. With a giant pastured chicken defrosting in my fridge and the mouthwatering memory of a delicious chicken and vinegar dish my friend had prepared the week before, I was sold. I knew I wanted a crispy-skinned chicken redolent with vinegar, wine, and good chicken stock. My friend had tossed some figs in with her dish; I decided I’d use prunes and soak them in wine so they’d break down and thicken the pan sauce with their jammy sweetness. Pancetta seemed necessary to provide a crunchy and salty component, but with its porky goodness it’s rarely out of place.
I can’t say enough good things about my take on vinegar chicken, with due credit to my friend Amy and her recipe source for the original inspiration. With the addition of a bit of cream at the end, the sauce is elevated from ordinary to extra-special so don’t go all diet-crazy and leave it out.
creamy vinegar chicken with pancetta and prunes
1 cup prunes, pitted and, depending on size, quartered or halved lengthwise
¾ cup dry-ish white wine
2 tsp ghee, olive oil, or butter
¼ lb pancetta, chopped
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (save the carcass for stock!)
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 cups chicken broth, divided
1¼ tsp fine sea salt, plus more to taste
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled (about 12-14 cloves total – don’t be scared)
½ cup heavy cream, crème fraîche, or cashew cream
sprinkle of fresh parsley leaves and minced chives, for serving
In a small bowl, combine prunes and white wine and soak for a couple hours. Drain and reserve prune-wine mixture. Set both prunes and soaking mixture aside.
Heat ghee in a large sauté or braising pan (something with a lid) over medium-high until hot but not smoking. Add pancetta and stir to break up pieces and coat in ghee. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fat has rendered and pancetta cubes are browned. Transfer pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Hold pan with accumulated pancetta fat off of the heat for a minute to cool down, then return to heat and crank it up a bit. Add chicken pieces, skin-side down, and brown on all sides (about 4-5 minutes per side).
Preheat oven to lowest setting (i.e., ‘warm’).
Transfer browned chicken pieces to a plate. Add vinegar, reserved prune-wine liquid, salt and pepper, and 1 cup chicken broth. The liquid may foam up a bit! Scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and add the browned chicken and any juices, garlic cloves, prunes, and bay leaves.
Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Flip chicken pieces, recover, and simmer for another 20 minutes. Transfer chicken pieces to an oven-safe dish and put in pre-warmed oven.
Add remaining 1 cup chicken stock to chicken-cooking liquid and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and boil down the sauce until it’s thick and syrupy (about 10 minutes). How thick you go is up to you; I like to let mine go long enough so that the prunes become a bit jammy and the sauce is almost gravy-like.
Turn heat down to low and stir in heavy cream, crème fraîche, or cashew cream. Remove chicken from oven and transfer to a serving dish. Spoon sauce atop chicken and garnish with parsley and chives. Serve immediately.