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Sara's Secrets: Cider-Braised Chicken

My reaction to this dish was, "Eh." It's really not all that exciting, and for the amount of work it takes, not worth the effort. Chicken thighs are braised in cider until tender, and the sauce thickens itself because the thighs are dredged in flour before being browned. There are a lot of steps to get this dish ready, and the payoff doesn't reflect all the work.

You've got to chop up some bacon, fry it, dredge the chicken, sauté it, braise the whole thing in cider, then add chopped apples and let the sauce reduce. Sara Moulton's recipe says that there's 15 minutes of "hands-on" time with this recipe, but it's more like 45 minutes.

If the end result were really tasty, all the effort would be worthwhile. But the chicken is bland, the apples don't add anything to the dish, and the flabby bits of bacon had an unpleasant texture. Off the top of my head I can think of three different quick ways to cook chicken thighs that are much less work than this recipe, and taste much better:

1. Marinate 2.5 to 3 lbs of bone-in chicken thighs in about 2 cups of balsamic vinaigrette (a high-quality prepared one is fine) for about 15 minutes. Cook on a grill, in a grill pan, or under the oven broiler until cooked through. Grill some sliced onions and bell peppers alongside and serve with couscous.

2. Pour a bottle of mesquite-flavored barbeque sauce over 2.5 to 3 lbs bone-in chicken thighs in an 8-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until cooked through, about 35 minutes. Serve with steamed green beans and corn bread.

3. Sauté bone-in chicken thighs in 2 Tbsp olive oil until golden. Add a thinly-sliced red onion, about 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth, and about 1/2 to 1 tsp dried thyme to the pan. Cover and simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove chicken and reduce sauce to about 1/2 cup. Add a spoonful (1 to 2 Tbsp) of seedless raspberry jelly and a dash of sherry or balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve sauce atop the chicken. Serve with buttered pasta and roasted asparagus or green beans.

Any one of these quick dinner ideas is a better choice for chicken thighs than this recipe from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals.

Prep Time: about 45 minutes
Cook Time: about 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 slices bacon, chopped
1/3 cup Wondra or all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), skin removed
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried
2 cups apple cider
1 unpeeled Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Cook the bacon in a large, heavy skillet until crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer to paper towels, leaving 1 tsp bacon fat in the pan (drain off excess fat). Combine the flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in a pie plate or soup plate. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, turning to coat evenly and shaking off excess flour.

Add the oil to the skillet. Add the chicken and cook over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium; add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and cook for 1 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the cider and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover tightly, and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the apple and cook 10 minutes longer. If the sauce is not thick enough, remove the chicken and reduce the sauce over high heat. Stir in the lemon juice and reserved bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste.



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