Cozy up with a meal beside the fireplace

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 22, 2011

There is nothing more satisfying that a simple, good tasting, comfort meal on a cold winter night. I recently decided to do a braised chicken with a root vegetable puree. Some vegetables could be found in the winter garden and some I had to go out and buy. The chicken called for Madeira, which of course, I did not have, but I found a bottle at Whole Foods for less than $10. Madeira, I learned is named for the Portuguese island where it is made. A fortified wine that is heated during the maturation process, it ranges from light colored and dry to dark and very sweet. The lighter versions are often apéritifs, while the darker, richer varieties can be served as a sweet post-dinner digestif.

Madeira is also great for cooking in both sweet and savory preparations.It can be used as the deglazing liquid for all kinds of meat. Madeira and country ham have been partners since Colonial days, when trading ships would pick up fortified wine on the way to America. Unlike regular wine, which is more fragile, Madeira would withstand the journey over turbulent waters and the extreme temperature changes common in the hold of the ship.

This chicken recipe was just wonderful, and you can prepare the root vegetable puree while the chicken cooks. I did purchase a free-range chicken at the local farmer’s market. It was not as fatty as the usual store bought one. It had not been pumped with hormones. The root vegetable puree called for a rutabaga, which we do not grow here so I had to buy one. We had some carrots and turnips in the garden, and sweet potatoes in the cellar, so that was my husband’s contribution to the winter meal.

Recipes are from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table. I find that I can always trust his recipes to produce a good meal.

Chicken with Autumn (Winter) Vegetables and Madeira

Serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil

One 3-4 pound free-range chicken, rinsed and cut into serving pieces

Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium onions, diced

3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick

1 cup medium-dry Madeira

1 cup white wine

2 cups chicken broth, can be low-sodium

A few thyme sprigs

3 bay leaves

2 thin slices country ham, cut into thin julienne strips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large heavy sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and white pepper. Raise the heat to medium-high and sear the pieces on all sides until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a rack set over a baking sheet and set aside.

Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the pan over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots, and cook until softened and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the Madeira and white wine, bring to a boil, and reduce by three-quarters. Add the broth, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a simmer.

Place the chicken in a casserole and pour the simmering broth over it. Cover the chicken with parchment paper, then cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil and braise in the oven until tender, about 15 minutes for the breast and 45 minutes for the dark meat. Remove the pieces as they are done and transfer to a rack set over a baking sheet.

Strain the braising liquid into a large saucepan and set the pan over medium-high heat, half on and half off the burner so you can easily skim off the fat as it rises to the cooler side of the pan. Reduce by half, 10-15 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter bit by bit, swirling it into the sauce. Add the chicken to the pan and heat through.

Spoon the vegetable puree onto individual plates. Arrange the chicken next to the puree. Garnish with the little strips of country ham.

Autumn Root Vegetable Puree

(Remember the 2011 trend: root vegetables are the new heirlooms.)

Serves 4

2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium parsnip, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into small chunks

½ medium rutabaga, peeled, trimmed, and cut into small chunks

Kosher salt

1-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine the turnips, carrots, parsnip, sweet potato, and rutabaga, add a good pinch of salt, and cover by 2 inches with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, 30-40 minutes.

Drain the vegetables and then return them to the saucepan to dry out over medium heat for 2 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a food mill and puree. (I used my food processor). Add the butter and salt and pepper to taste, and reheat if necessary before serving.