My wife-to-be, Laura, is not fond of cooking. She loves that I cook — and she loves good food — but she’s pretty “meh” about making food herself — unless she can add some beer to it. Cake batter, chili — let her add beer to something, and she is on deck.
The other day, one of you lovely Good Taste readers (egori) shared a link to a cooking website based in Italy. Laura, ever the Italophile, clicked over to take a look. “Hey, there’s a recipe for chicken with beer!” she announced excitedly: “Chicken with onions and bacon.”
I thought immediately of the recent, feast-for-the senses Italian film I Am Love (Io sono l’amore), starring Tilda Swinton. Her character, Emma Recchi, has a staggeringly powerful mid-life erotic and sensual reawakening shortly after her own college-age daughter, Betta, shares that she has fallen in love with a woman.
Food plays a prominent symbolic role throughout the movie. I imagine the family’s beloved housekeeper, Ida, making herself this homey, humble, and utterly delicious comfort-food dish after orchestrating the sterile, formal, multi-course meals that were par for the course for those who lived above-stairs.
[Note to my carnivore readers: you’re in luck. Note to my vegetarian readers: we have substitution suggestions for you, but will be using the word chicken throughout. Vegan readers, use all olive oil, ignore the butter, and sub in the vegan protein of your choice.]
Laura translated the recipe, which had some Continental quirks that I thought better of. I cut back on the butter and oil dramatically. Hello, skin-on chicken with bacon does not need tons of butter and oil. I subbed out the bacon for pancetta (the nitrite-free organic bacon was $8 for less than a pound at my grocery store, but the pancetta was $6), and added some honey and lemon juice to finesse the beer’s bitter notes.
We also finished it all off in the oven instead of keeping it on the stovetop the whole time. Why? To brown it up and crisp it up a little bit. The photograph of the finished dish on the Italian website looked a bit too flaccid and rubbery for my taste — when some hot oven time could make it rosy and caramelized. Doesn’t that sound better?
We’ll start in on the recipe in a sec; but before that I’ll mention some other beer-tastic recipe ideas:
— Frijoles Borrachos (beans with beer, aka Drunken Beans)
And now back to the main event.
Beer Buzzed Chicken with Onions and Pancetta
This is an inexpensive, easy dinner, and you get a lot of bang for your time and money buck, considering the payoff: a luscious, melting, tender, many-layered, sexy dish that makes the whole house smell amazing — like a bistro in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France (odd, considering that it’s from an Italian website).
You will need the following gear:
Large oven-safe skillet or pot
2-3 lbs. chicken, bone in and skin on. Can be a cut-up whole chicken, or your favorite pieces. Vegetarians can sub Quorn, seitan, extra firm tofu, or another meat substitute
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 pint lager beer (we used Samuel Adams Boston Lager)
2 medium white onions, cut in half top-to-bottom and then sliced into thin semicircles. (see photo below)
1 chicken bouillon cube or chicken-flavored base, or veggie alternative
4 oz pancetta (or bacon or bacon substitute), roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (we used oregano, thyme and basil)
1-2 tablespoons honey
salt and pepper to taste
Optional but strongly suggested: a loaf of rustic, dense, crusty bread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Wash and, if necessary, cut the chicken into serving-sized pieces. Turn burner up to medium, and melt butter and heat olive oil in your large skillet or pot. Give it a stir. When the mixture starts to froth and bubble, set the chicken pieces into the pot, in one layer. Ideally, you’ll be able to fit them all in one round, but if not, do it in batches. At this stage, the idea is to brown the chicken pieces, not to cook them all the way through. That will happen later.
Sauté chicken pieces in pan until browned on both sides (approx. 5-7 minutes per side).
While the chicken is cooking, you have time to prep the onions and chop up the pancetta. Note that the onions look like cute little rainbows.
Pour a good slosh of the beer into a cup or liquid measuring cup and dissolve the bouillon cube in it. Don’t drink the rest of the beer — you’re going to need it.
When chicken is browned, transfer to a large plate to rest. You can cover it with a piece of aluminum foil to retain the heat.
Add the onions and pancetta to the skillet, and toss them well in the excellent mixture of olive oil, butter and chicken drippings. YUM. Break up the onions by stirring and tapping them vigorously. Cook until the pancetta is crispy and the onions are soft.
“Inhale deeply during this step,” Laura says, “as it smells amazing.”
Transfer the chicken back into the pan, and add the juices that have collected in the plate. Add bouillon/beer mixture and remaining beer to the pan.
Sprinkle in the dried herbs. Mix gently but thoroughly. Turn up the heat to medium high, and cook until juices are reduced by 2/3 (approx. 20 minutes), turning the chicken over once to make sure they’re evenly cooked. You don’t need to do this if you’re using meat substitutes.
This is a really great point in time to make out with your girl (or cruise internet dating sites if you’re single). Just don’t get carried away and scorch your delish dinner.
Once the liquid is reduced, turn off the flame. Make sure all the chicken pieces are skin-side up. Drizzle the chicken with honey, and then squeeze the half lemon over the contents of the pot (I gave it 4 good squirts).
Put the entire skillet into the oven, uncovered. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes, until the chicken and onions begin to brown.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and serve it up, girlfriend!
This meal tastes wonderful with dry Riesling or Grüner Veltliner wines, or some more beer.
We plated the chicken its divine sauce with thick slices of bread, and a salad, but it would also be transporting with mashed potatoes, rice, or a whole grain. The key is to have something to mop up that killer sauce with.
Trust us: it led to dreamy extended eye contact and guttural moaning. And that’s before we left the table.
Candace is the co-editor of Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women (Seal Press, 2010), and Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On (Seal Press, 2009). She is currently working on a memoir-with-recipes for Seal Press called Licking the Spoon. Candace is also the features editor at Mothering magazine, mama of two, and enamorata of smarty-pants Laura, her live-in recipe tester. Follow Candace on Twitter @candacewalsh.