What’s for dinner: Vinegar-Braised Chicken and Onions

VinegarBraisedChickenandOnionsPhoto of Vinegar-Braised Chicken and Onions by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, from the February issue of Bon Appétit. Click on it — or here — to open the recipe in a new browser window.

It sounded so simple, but I really should have known better.  Bon Appétit is incapable of doing something simple.

Let’s start with the first steps:

“Cook onions in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, 5–8 minutes. Drain and let cool. Trim root ends; peel.* Meanwhile …”

Hold up: You must have forgotten that Step 1 involves trimming and peeling 2 pounds’ worth of of pearl onions. That’s SIXTY PEARL ONIONS. There is no sous chef in the kitchen, there is no co-cooking going on, and there is certainly no “meanwhile” when 60 onions are involved.

* BTW, cutting off the root end and squeezing the parboiled onion is supposed to be an easy way to pop it out of its husky outer layers. However, it also often makes each bulb pop a tiny onion erection: The tiny, innermost layer emerges first, and while the first few times it is amusing, it becomes significantly less enjoyable after two dozen instances of that happening, instead of the whole onion emerging intact, which is really the goal here.

PearlOnionsAfter the onions were taken care of, it was off to fry some pancetta. I swapped regular bacon for more than half of the pancetta, because the Italian bacon was $5.50 for 3 ounces. And while I am all for culinary adventure, I would believe that a $20 investment should return more some rendered oil that I’m about to cook everything else in. Speaking of that oil, guess what goes in it next? That’s right: the onions (hi, onions, at right!) and a little garlic. Then all the ingredients are held in a bowl while you cook the chicken.

And here’s where things really went sour. I only half-noticed that this recipe didn’t include the common “prep time” / “cooking time” info in the header — I realize now that the magazine never lists it, and I suspect that I know why it’s not there. Our collection of pots and pans is OK … certainly not subpar. But our largest “heavy pot” still fits a maximum of four big chunks of chicken at a time, if there’s to be space between them (which helps the cooking process). So the step of cooking five pounds of chicken, in batches, so each piece is browned on all sides, took almost 1½ hours all by itself.

That’s a long time to stand in one place and get spattered by flecks of hot oil. So after the first two batches, I started wandering off to do other things while the chicken cooked: I ran the dishwater to start doing dishes … I finished a sinkful of dishes … I dried and put them away … I did a second sinkful … I was down to just the pot I kept throwing chicken into. And still I had pieces to cook.

One of the final steps is to deglaze the pan with vinegar and chicken broth, and throw everything in to simmer — for another 35 to 40 minutes. Which means that I started this recipe early in the 6 o’clock hour, and I switched off the burners at 9:25 p.m. I still haven’t plattered the food and skimmed and seasoned the sauce because … well, keep reading.

Cost of ingredients: $20 — and that doesn’t factor in the five pounds of chicken, which I already had in the freezer. (The pearl onions and the pancetta alone cost almost $15.)

Substitutions: The bacon, of course. Half of the oil was vegetable oil instead of olive oil, since it would be used for cooking a half-pound of bacon, and thus any olivey goodness would be rendered undistinguishable. Oh, and no bay leaves.

As easy as they said? Ha. That’s funny. Three hours worth of easy.

How’d THAT go over? Well, if you’re asking me how dinner went over, I’ll tell you that it was delicious. That’s because at 7:55 p.m., I got out a bowl of Kashi Go Lean Crunch and some milk, drizzled some honey on it and mowed through it because I was starving. Then, an hour and a half later, when the dish was finally done, I sampled a fork full of chicken: Meh.

Would I make it again? Never. Never. Never. Never. Never never never never never never never never never.

I’m willing to put in the time when the end result is something spectacular. (Every year, I stand and stir panna cotta for hours in front of the same stove and counter, because it delivers a perfect silky texture in a rich but delicate dessert.) This is chicken that is stewed in a pot with 1½ cups of vinegar and some broth. It should not be this hard, because the end result is not that good.

WHAT SAM WORE: 02-05-13
shirt020513 pants082012 shoes1026
The shirt: Now, with a billion extra oil stains from frying chicken!
Long-sleeved cotton button-down, from the J.Crew outlet store at Anthem.
The pants: Dark-wash straight-cut jeans, from Uniqlo in New York.
The shoes: Leather sneakers by Puma, from Nordstrom in Scottsdale.

3 responses to “What’s for dinner: Vinegar-Braised Chicken and Onions

  1. Thanks for testing this recipe! I was going to try it…and it may sound uncaring of me, but I’m glad you tried it first! I would use regular onions (white) cut in quarters – I generally think pearl onions are a bit over-rated. And with both wine & vinegar, I think the recipe needs something a bit sweet to temper them.
    Just my opinion.

    • Laura, I agree! I think the flavors would hold up just as well with full-size white or even yellow onions, quartered or roughly chopped. I love vinegar so I didn’t mind the lack of sweetness here, and the flavors do mellow during the braising so it’s not too sour. Really if you roasted the chicken pieces all at once and used big onions, you could easily cut an hour off this and get the same flavor profile. It may taste better tomorrow, after the bitter taste of wasted time is out of my mouth. (Ha!)

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