Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Scandinavia: Chicken with Cinnamon Juniper Sauce

Wake early if you want another man's life or land. No lamb for the lazy wolf. No battle's won in bed. The Havamal (an Old Norse poem)

Delicious, moist chicken simmered in a wonderful sauce.
This started out as Scandinavian recipe but then sort of took a detour… not too far, but a detour none the less. I suppose it's sort of like the Vikings, whose travels inspired this dish.

Photo: Wiki CC
I was looking for Scandinavian recipes to use cardamom extract in and was poking around "here and there." Since I had some chicken in the refrigerator that needed to be used I thought why not look to find out what they do with that ingredient Nordic countries.

What I found was two very interesting recipes. The first was a Medieval one that used cinnamon, bay and juniper. The second – which I thought sounded extremely interesting – was a juniper-cinnamon sauce for duck hearts. The two recipes had many ingredients in common.

So I set about cobbling the two together into a simmering sauce for chicken. Not leaving well enough alone I added some other influences, much like the Vikings did,  that I knew would benefit the end result. My suppositions turned out rather well.

Scandinavia is a historical region – as opposed to an actual country – that comprises the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In the Middle Ages they were populated by the Norse, known by their invaded as Vikings. 

The diversity in Scandinavian cuisine is due to the influences brought back to their countries by Viking  marauder/traders/explorers. That’s the reason spices associated with the Middle East made their way into Northern European cuisine. 

Juniper is common throughout much of the world, but in northern countries where there are few other culinary aromatics it has extensive use.

Our local juniper. Photo: Wiki CC
The Vikings were great tradesmen. In Constantinople they traded many items including slaves, amber, furs, skins, walrus tusks, etc., for spices and other precious goods they did not produce such as silk.

The Vikings founded important trading cities not only in their own countries, but also put Dublin, Ireland and York, England on the trading map. At a time when the old east-west trade routes were closed or unsafe, the Vikings kept the trade route between Byzantium and the west open.

So we actually have a lot to thank them for. It’s interesting that sometimes we only really remember one historical aspect of a story.

Regardless, this recipe marries a lot of what they kept alive. This sauce is extremely good and quite "deep" in flavour Don’t worry about all the juniper. I swear you actually hardly notice it.

Did you know that you can harvest your own juniper berries right here in Nova Scotia? (Look here.) I would assume that last year’s berries would be still good to go gather if you had the inclination. I think I'll look soon.

The sauce just before adding the chicken back in to simmer.
Chicken with Cinnamon Juniper Sauce
Prep: 10 min  |  Fry:  15 min  |  Simmer: 15 min  |  Serves 4-6
6-8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
20 juniper berries, ground
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup currants
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
7 juniper berries, whole
1/2 cup red wine
Salt and cracked black pepper
2 tbsp butter (not margarine)

Combine the flour, cinnamon, ground juniper berries and some salt and pepper in a bag. Add the chicken and shake to coat well.

Heat a wide, deep skillet on medium high heat. Place the chicken in the dry pan, skin side up. Reduce the heat to medium and let the fat render out of the chicken. You may feel the urge to add oil but don’t.

Let the chicken brown on the bottom until it releases. Turn and brown the top. The whole time shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to a dish.

Pour off all but about 2 tbsp of the chicken fat. Add the onions and currants and sauté until the onions begin to soften. If necessary deglaze the pan with a little red wine.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, whole juniper and wine to the pan. Season with some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and add the chicken back in. 

Place a cover on the pot, slightly ajar, and let simmer for 15 minutes to finish cooking the chicken. Keep a watch that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

Remove the chicken, turn the heat to high and thicken the sauce. Once reduced, turn off the heat and stir in the butter.

To serve place some sauce on the plate and top with a piece or two of the chicken.

The photo at top shows the chicken with pot barley and rapini.


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