Monday, May 4, 2009

Chicken with wine and lemon.

I am holding on to a deep regret. I suppose it is a little thing, but it was a symptom of Grammie's aging process and as often happens people feel redundant. I have always felt guilty that I made the wrong choice. Grammie lived in the apartment at the back of our house. I shared the bathroom with her. We became very close over the years that she lived with us. I know that she was feeling like a fifth wheel in the house. Mom pretty much ran the show at holiday meals. She was a great cook, so it was the natural choice. One Thanksgiving Grammie made this chicken recipe and brought it to the table, a few minutes late. I had already filled my plate, probably beyond my ability to consume the meal. She offered the chicken to all and was refused by everyone, as the meal had already been served. I was the last to be offered. I did not remember ever having seen it before, and it was unconventional looking and smelled just as unusual. Nevertheless, I would have loved it had I tried it, but there was no way I could take it. I was her last straw I guess. She took her chicken and stormed off to her apartment. We did not see her at the rest of the dinner. I felt so bad. It ate at me for days(still does I guess). A few weeks later I made the point of going up and asking her how to make it. She taught me how, and I have been doing it ever since.
I am terribly concerned about calories, so I have not really done it this way for years. Chicken skin just doesn't make it onto my table as a rule. It is never the same! You just have to bite the bullet and do the chicken skin.

Cut up a small chicken into serving pieces, the breast is good in two pieces. Leave the skin intact.

Place in a covered casserole that will go from stove top to oven. She used Corning Wear. Place on the stove on low heat and simply stew the chicken in the juices that come out of it till it is about half done.

Remove it from the heat and squeeze the juice of a whole lemon over the chicken.

Pour in about a cup of a semi-sweet white wine. She used Silver Satin...Where you would get that today is a mystery to me. A Sauterne would be good if you can find one you can afford. I use Marsala these days. Perhaps this is a way to use Malvasia if you take out a bank loan to pay for the meal.

Shake a fairly heavy coat of white sugar over the chicken.

Dust the whole thing with cinnamon.

You might do well to put on another layer of sugar over the cinnamon.

Put the pan uncovered into a fairly hot oven and baste very carefully every 10 to 15 min. Be careful to moisten the sugar without washing it away.

You are trying to crisp the skin and caramelize the sugar on the surface.

Toast a half cup of slivered almonds or Pine nuts in the oven and sprinkle over the chicken the last time it goes into the oven.

The Arab world touches Sicily in this dish, and this would be great served with rice or couscous soaked in the resulting syrup.

In speaking to my cousin Jenny DeFina, I have another version of this.
Her mother, Rose Cincotta used Alspice instead of Cinnamon. Also, instead of layering up the sugar and spice on the top of the chicken, she made a sort of sweet lemonade with sugar and lemon and poured it over the chicken. She also grated a bit of lemon rind and put minced onion into the dish after it braised. She toasted slivered almonds and sprinkled them on the dish only on holidays.
Of course this is still the same dish with its roots firmly in the Arabic world....Spice, sugar and lemon...That is Arabic all right.

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