Spring has arrived in earnest, and that means a new crop of seasonal produce is at the market. I was thrilled to find a batch of fiddleheads and promptly planned a spring chicken dinner around them.
Now, I realize the term “spring chicken” is often used in the negative to convey precisely the opposite, as in “She’s no spring chicken,” but I’m setting that impression aside for this meal — which is seasonal, delicious and perfect for a cool spring evening when you want something comforting but not heavy.
The chicken dish is ideal for this time of year: We are not quite to the warm-weather, grill-everything stage, but we have moved away from the hearty stews and roasts of winter.
One technique I recently learned from a cooking maven friend that put a spring in my step — “cleaning” or “freshening” the chicken with lemon. She swears by it, claiming that it really does make the chicken taste better. The results are beyond reproach, so when I make this dish I will certainly factor in that step, and will integrate it into other chicken recipes.
The other great thing about this dish is that it cooks quickly; depending on the size of the chicken pieces, it can be done on the stove in about 30 minutes with its own gravy ready to splash over rice, noodles or potatoes as desired. And because the flavors are in the traditional “roast chicken” palate, therefore no chili or cumin, curry powder or coconut milk, it is likely to appeal to even picky eaters.
Spring Chicken with Gravy
Serves 4-6, depending on size of chicken pieces
If the chicken pieces are large, you can cut them. I used split breasts and cut them into three pieces each. This ensures quicker, even cooking and allows the flavors to permeate more thoroughly.
For the chicken
6 bone-in chicken pieces of equal size (thighs/breasts/legs)
2 tablespoons oil
2 cups chicken stock
1 onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons flour
2-3 tablespoons water
For the seasoning
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish, if desired
Clean the chicken with fresh slices of lemon by rubbing the cut sides of the lemon over the entire surface and squeezing juice on each piece. Set aside.
Mix all the seasoning ingredients together in a small bowl or measuring cup. Coat the chicken lightly with the seasoning mixture, sprinkling it over each piece, and allowing it to sit for a few minutes or a few hours.
Bring the chicken to room temperature before cooking. Heat the oil in a pan on high heat until shimmering. Lower the heat to medium-high.
Add the chicken, bone-side down, and cook it for about 5 minutes. (Take care not to smoke or burn.) Flip the chicken to skin-side down and cook until the skin is crispy and golden, about 5 minutes more. Remove the chicken from the pan and let it rest. Cover the chicken tightly with foil. (It will not be fully cooked at this point.)
Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onion; sauté it for about 5 minutes. While the onions cook, mix the flour and water to form a thin paste; set it aside. When the onions are translucent, add the chicken broth, raise the heat and bring it to a boil, scraping the browned bits and incorporating them into the broth.
Return the chicken and any juices to pan (skin side up), cover and simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes or longer, depending on the size of your pieces. Check the largest piece for doneness. The liquid should be reduced by about one-quarter.
Remove the chicken from the pan, keep it warm and add the flour mixture, whisking constantly. Bring it to a boil for one minute to thicken the gravy, whisk it again and shake the pan a bit to ensure a consistent texture throughout the gravy. Taste for seasoning.
Put the chicken back in the pan, or plate it atop rice or noodles and top it with the gravy and fresh parsley.
These lovely coils are the culinary embodiment of spring — green, fresh and fleeting.
The farmer who sold them to me advised that I blanch the fiddleheads in boiling water for a few minutes and then cook them in a white wine reduction. So I did.
If you want to add a bit of richness to the dish, depending on what else you are serving, you can put a tablespoon of butter, margarine or olive oil into the wine reduction before adding the blanched fiddleheads.
2-3 cups fresh fiddleheads, rinsed well
½ cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the fiddleheads in, and cook them for about 7 minutes.
While the fiddleheads boil, heat the wine in a skillet with the salt and pepper, and bring it to a boil to allow it to reduce, about 5 minutes, Drain the fiddleheads and dump them into the reduced wine. Sauté them briefly to coat, about 1-2 minutes, and serve.