Say welcome to fall with a nice cup of cider. But instead of downing it with a doughnut or two, try using this favorite apple beverage as an ingredient to prepare other dishes.
Many home cooks know that cider imparts its wonderful sweet-tart apple flavor to cakes and muffins, and other autumn sweets. But don't overlook cider when preparing savory foods.
Winter squashes, such as acorn and butternut, and sweet potatoes can be prepared with cider. Apple cider works well as a braising liquid for poultry or pork. The mild flavor of these meats gets infused with the apple liquid when braising. If braising beef, cider also helps to tenderize tougher cuts, such as brisket.
When you bring home a jug of cider from your local orchard, save a cup or two to try out in this recipe for cider-braised chicken leg quarters.
Using leg quarters makes this meal very affordable and family-friendly, as chicken legs typically are a kid favorite. It will work with a whole cut-up chicken to satisfy the white-meat eaters in the family. Prepare it with the skin on or off. If removing the skin, you may need to add a little extra canola oil to the pan when first browning the chicken.
This recipe works equally well with a pork loin, tenderloin or chops. The procedure is the same, but the amount of braising liquid will have to be adjusted up or down depending on amount of meat used. Braising liquid should come no more than one-third of the way up the pan. If using a whole pork loin, use three or four apples instead of two.
Unlike chicken, pork need only roast in the oven to 145 degrees to keep it from drying out.
Serve this recipe with homemade spaetzle (recipe follows) or store-bought egg noodles, with a spoon or two of the sauce and apples ladled over the dumplings, and a simply dressed green salad.
Cider-braised Chicken Leg Quarters
Makes 4 servings.
2 teaspoons canola oil or other vegetable oil
4 pounds chicken leg quarters (about 4 legs with thighs attached)
Salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Gala apples, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks (or other sweet apple, such as Golden Delicious)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves (see note)
1½ cups apple cider
½ cup low-salt chicken broth
Heat canola oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add chicken pieces, skin side down, and cook until well browned. Flip and brown other side.
Remove chicken to a platter. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from Dutch oven. Add onion to remaining fat and saute until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and apple and continue to saute until both begin to soften.
Sprinkle flour over mixture, and stir to coat.
Add cider, broth and sage, and cook, using a spatula to scrape up the brown bits from the pan, until liquid comes to a boil. Remove from heat and place chicken pieces, along with any of their juices that have collected on the platter, back into the braising liquid.
Cover and place in oven heated to 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked to at least 170 degrees and is very tender, and sauce has thickened slightly.
If chicken is done but sauce remains thin, place in skillet on stovetop and cook over medium-high heat until reduced and thickened.
Notes: Don’t substitute dried sage in this recipe, as its flavor can be overpowering. If you don’t have fresh sage leaves, use another fresh herb, such as thyme. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, prepare chicken as directed in a skillet, cover and place skillet in oven (as long as its handle is ovenproof). You can also bake in a covered casserole or other ovenproof pan with a tight-fitting lid, or tightly cover your pan with foil.
Makes about 6 servings.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup milk
½ stick salted butter
Freshly chopped parsley
Bring a large pot of cold, salted water to a boil on stovetop.
Combine flour, salt and pepper. Combine eggs and milk. Using a rubber spatula or large spoon, mix egg mixture into flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Batter will be soft and sticky.
Position spaetzle maker on top of pot. Pour batter into top of a spaetzle maker and move grater back and forth, dropping dumplings into water below as you go.
Reduce heat and cook spaetzle in simmering water for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain well.
Melt butter in skillet. Place drained spaetzle in skillet and toss with melted butter until coated and slightly browned. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Top with freshly chopped parsley for serving.
Note: While spaetzle can be made without a maker by dropping the batter off a spoon, the tool makes the job much easier and produces uniform size spaetzle. Spaetzle makers are available at kitchen stores and other home stores, retailing for about $7.