Monday, October 24, 2011

Poulet Vallée d'Auge (Chicken with Calvados, Cream, Mushrooms & Apples)

One of my favorite ways to cook chicken is in a classic French sauté. A braised, stew-like preparation of bone-in pieces of chicken, a sauté can be simple and rustic or labor-intensive and refined...or somewhere in between. No matter how rustic or refined, well-executed renditions of these dishes are always flavorful and utterly satisfying—conjuring up idealized images of grandmother's house...and Sunday dinner.  Every region of France seems to have its own special sautés that feature traditional and local products. A little over a year ago I posted a recipe for a refined version of a sauté from the Basque country. Today I thought I would share a sauté from Normandy called Poulet Vallée d'Auge.

The Pays d'Auge is located in central Normandy—the land of butter and cream and apples. Three of France's famous cheeses (Camembert, Livarot and Pont-l'Évêque) come from this region. It is also the home of Calvados (apple brandy), as well as hard cider and Pommeau (a fortified-style apple wine). It is only fitting that a chicken sauté from this region would feature cream, Calvados and apples. 

Poulet Vallée d'Auge goes together in the usual way of a sauté—brown the chicken, remove the chicken and brown the vegetables, deglaze the pan, return the chicken to the pan, add more liquid and simmer gently until the chicken is very tender. I cover the basic steps of the sauté model in more detail in my post on Poulet Basquaise. My Poulet Vallée d'Auge is slightly less refined than my version of Poulet Basquaise—the vegetables cooked with the chicken are not strained out—but the principles behind the two dishes are the same.

The components of Poulet Vallée d'Auge vary surprisingly little from recipe to recipe.  There are of course the three signature ingredients (Calvados, cream and apples).  And most versions will also include shallots, mushrooms, thyme and bay.  The greatest variation occurs in the liquids that are used.  In addition to the Calvados and cream some recipes add even more liquid—hard cider or chicken stock are typical.  I added stock to mine, but if you have access to a nice dry, hard cider, it would be entirely in keeping with the integrity of the dish to use that instead of or in combination with the stock.  You will even find some recipes that add no liquids other than Calvados and cream.  

If you don't keep Calvados on hand (it is fairly expensive), I think it is perfectly acceptable to use plain brandy. Certainly it would be better to use brandy than to bypass this wonderful dish just because you didn't have any Calvados. You will also notice in the recipe that it directs you to return the chicken to the pan before you add the Calvados. This is a bit of a departure from most sautés. The usual method is to deglaze the pan with wine (or possibly stock) before the chicken is returned to the pan. It is just easier to do the required boiling and scraping of the bottom of the pan without large pieces of chicken to work around (I also think it probably doesn't do the chicken any favors to expose it to hard boiling). In this dish, a lot of the work of deglazing is accomplished by the mushrooms before the Calvados is added because the mushrooms release some liquid when they are first added to the pan and before they begin to brown. Also, since the Calvados is flambéed (instead of boiled for reduction) there is a school of thought that holds that by flambéing the Calvados around the chicken, the chicken is infused with the aroma of the Calvados.

Apples are added to Poulet Vallée d'Auge at the end as a garnish. Sometimes they are simply sautéed and served alongside the chicken and its sauce. But I like to add the sautéed apples to the cream sauce for a brief simmer at the end while the sauce is reducing—this insures that the apples are tender (make sure you choose an apple that holds its shape when cooked) and it also allows them to contribute their flavor to the final sauce.

Caramelized apples

Apples simmering in reducing cream sauce

Since we are in the middle of apple season, now would be a perfect time to sample this dish.  And if you have never tasted a French sauté, this one would be a good place to begin.  Maybe it could be the centerpiece of your next Sunday dinner.

Poulet Vallée d'Auge
(Chicken with Calvados, Cream, Mushrooms & Apples)

1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. unsalted butter
1 3 1/2 lb. chicken, cut up (see note) or 3 lbs. chicken parts of your choice
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 large shallot, minced
1 T. picked thyme
1/3 to 1/2 c. Calvados (or brandy)
1 c. chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 T. unsalted butter
2 to 3 medium apples—Golden Delicious, Gala, Jonagold or Braeburn—peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges each
1 c. crème fraiche or heavy cream
Salt & Pepper
lemon, if necessary

 Melt the butter with the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large straight-sided sauté pan or a wide enameled cast-iron pot. Pat the chicken dry and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the pan, skin side down, and brown all over, in batches if necessary to keep from crowding the pan. Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle. When the chicken is golden brown and the skin is crisp and well-rendered, transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the fat.

Add the mushrooms to the pan and sauté until soft and browned—about 5 minutes. Add the shallots and thyme to the pan (adding a bit of butter if the pan seems dry) and cook until soft—a couple of minutes.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, remove the pan from the heat and add the Calvados. Return the pan to the heat and carefully flambé (either by lighting with a match or tilting the pan if you are using a gas stove). Shake the pan, continuing to cook until the flames subside. (If you prefer not to flambé, simply simmer the calvados until it is well-reduced and thick and bubbly.) Add the stock and the bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer.

When the white meat pieces are cooked through (after about 15 to 20 minutes), remove them to a plate and cover with foil to keep them warm. Continue to cook the remaining dark meat pieces until very tender and cooked through—another 15 minutes or so.

While the chicken simmers, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Increase the heat to medium high and when the butter foam subsides, add the apples. Sauté, turning occasionally and reducing the heat if the apples threaten to burn. After the apples have begun to take on some color, season with salt & pepper. Continue to cook until the apples are golden and just tender (about 10 to 15 minutes). Remove the apples to a plate and set aside.

When the dark meat is cooked through, remove to the plate with the white meat. Remove the bay and discard. Add the cream and the sautéed apples to the pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly. Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. If using heavy cream instead of crème fraiche you may need to add a little lemon to lift the flavor a bit. Reduce the heat to very low and return the chicken to the pan along with any resting juices. Cover the pan and briefly allow the chicken to heat through. 

Poulet Vallée d'Auge is traditionally served with rice, noodles or steamed/boiled potatoes. Serves 4 to 6


The chicken may be cut into 4 or 8 serving pieces (or you may use parts, as noted in the recipe). It doesn't matter how the chicken is cut up as long as all of the pieces are the same size. For these "Sauté-style" stews, the French traditionally cut the chicken into 8 pieces—2 legs, 2 thighs and 4 breast pieces. The four breast pieces are obtained by taking each split breast and cutting it cross-wise into 2 equal pieces. The other way to cut the chicken is to cut it into quarters—2 leg-thigh joints and 2 breasts. For both methods, the first joint of the wing may be left attached to the breasts.

Like all stews/braises, this dish can be made earlier in the day, or the day before. The cream sauce should not be fully reduced during the initial preparation as it will reduce further during the reheating process. To reheat, place the whole dish in a 350 degree oven and heat through...or gently warm on the stove top over low heat. If you prefer, when you make the dish ahead you could make it just to the point of adding the cream and apples, and then start from that point when you are ready to serve (Store the chicken in the cooking liquid and then reheat the chicken and liquid. Remove the chicken and add the cream and apples, reduce and then return the chicken to the pan as usual.).

Printable Recipe


Anonymous said...

Paige, thank you very kindly for this. I think I am going to experiment with it a bit and make it with beef chuck sliced thin and browned first in order to get it's sweetness pronounced. Thank you again, I saw pictures of this and it looked delicious, but the cookbook did not contain the recipe!

Paige said...

You're so very welcome!...I'm glad I could provide a recipe for you. I would love to hear how this turns out with the beef.

Rosie said...

My husband doesn't like mushrooms so I won't be making this recipe, but I love your blog and when I host a girls night I will be checking out your blog for recipes!

Paige said...

Hi Rosie, Thank you! I hope you will find lots of recipes that you and your friends will enjoy.

sarahreadsalot said...

Is it possible to make this without the alcohol?

Paige said...

Hi Sarah, Yes, you can just leave it out...or, replace it with some plain apple cider.