Traditionally this is made with an old rooster (and in Romania it is still possible to buy old hens (gaina) and roosters (cocos) readily, together with their blood and all the bits and pieces like the giblets, feet and heads to provide flavor and gelatine. This recipe is a little more user friendly and relies on Elizabeth David’s method of cooking the bird in wine (I quarter my bird) and then adding at the end the mushrooms and onions. I add bacon because I like it and sometimes, if they are lying around, finely diced carrots and/or celery/celeriac for sweetness. Some people like to add dark chocolate to deepen the sauce and thicken it – sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.
I procured two old hens and a rooster (after requesting three young chickens…but anyhow…what was lost in translation created an authentic dish) this week and set about recreating Elizabeth David’s dish, but with chocolate – hope the grand dame won't be turning in her grave.
The best thing about this recipe is that ideally it should be cooked on one day and left overnight and merely finished the next day, which makes it great for dinner parties. I wish I could write pages of technique here, but the recipe is ridiculously easy. It does however rely on a bit of common sense when the cooking time is concerned – and as so often in life, it's better to know your bird well. A hormone injected supermarket chick will start to disintegrate after approximately one hour of heat, which makes for a fast dinner, but an old rooster can comfortably stew for 2- 3 hours, slowly releasing flavors without falling apart on you.
Ingredients (for four)
These are more a guide – the key thing is to submerge the bird in wine and let it take care of itself! Onions, bacon and mushroom are fairly personal and often depend on what is in the fridge, but here are indicative quantities:
1 chicken (2-2.5kg of chicken) quartered or a packet of thighs , drumsticks and breast (not too much breast as you need the bones to give some flavor)
1 bottle of dry red wine that you would happily drink
200g unsmoked bacon cut into small strips or cubes
16 button onions or two medium onions cut into fine dice
250g mushrooms quartered
Salt & pepper, a good sprig of thyme, 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper
Place your quartered bird in a saucepan that can fit in the oven. Cover with wine or wine and chicken stock if you are using. Add bay leaves and a generous sprig of fresh thyme/ good dried thyme like the bunches you find in the markets in Romania (I am not often pedantic but there is a huge difference between fresh thyme and packet thyme which has all the flavor of sawdust). If you have giblets, feet and other bits put those in too or alternatively make a stock with them and add that to the chicken pieces and wine.
Bring to the boil.
Place in the oven at 160C (fan assisted or 180 not) and cook for 1.5 hours covered. Check the meat is tender – an old rooster may well need 2-3 hours. Don’t lose hope! It will become tender!
Leave to cool overnight if that is what you are doing…if not progress on to finishing.
One good tip is to refrigerate overnight and let the fat that will be floating around on the top of the dish solidify. This makes skimming the fat a cinch. Save that fat! Spread it on toast or cook with it – roast potatoes, anything fried will have more flavor.
One hour before you wish to serve the dish you need to reduce the sauce (else you will have a red wine soup). Take the pieces of chicken out and place in the final serving dish. Look at the saucepan and remember (I have been known to use a marker pen on my saucepans) how high the sauce was. Place on a fairly high flame and reduce to half its original volume. While the sauce is reducing lightly fry the onions , mushrooms and bacon.
The sauce should now be a deeper, richer version of its former self, but if you like the sauce quite thick add a little beurre manie, which is butter and flour creamed together in equal quantity, and bring the dish to the boil just for a few minutes until the sauce thickens (for this recipe approx. one large heaped tablespoon of plain flour and an equal volume of butter). If using chocolate, omit the beurre manie, because the chocolate will thicken the sauce too. Take the saucepan off the heat (boiling chocolate results in a separated fatty mess) and gently add a handful of very good dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids minimum) roughly broken up. Give a gentle stir to ensure the chocolate has amalgamated. Tip in the onions, bacon and mushrooms. Pour over the chicken. Covered with foil, the entire dish can rest quite happily in an oven set to 100C for an hour or so before serving.
This dish is rich so needs only rice, couscous or good mashed potato and a salad to set it off. Be sure to have plenty of fresh bread around to mop up the sauce and some good red wine to drink with it.
By Rachel Sargent, Guest Writer
Rachel Sargent is owner of The London Street Atelier, which organizes cookery classes, private dinners and offers catering. More about it here.
(photo credits: Rachel Sargent)