Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pollo alla Birra (Roasted Chicken with Beer)

I recently bought Lidia Bastianich's newest cookbook, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, because I was very interested in her recipes from the various regions of Italy.  Much of my Italian cooking is inspired by Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and Abruzzo.  However, I bought the book to read and try Lidia's recipes from other, perhaps lesser-known regions, such as Basilicata or Trentino-Alto Adige.  With respect to the latter region, Trentino-Alto Adige is a mountainous region in northern Italy along the border with Switzerland and Austria.  Given its mountainous terrain, as well as its location, the cuisine of Trentino Alto-Adige has characteristics that are drawn more from German cuisine than Italian cuisine.

Perhaps the German influences explain the recipe for Pollo alla Birra (Roast Chicken with Beer), which was amongst the recipes that Lidia gathered from the region of Trentino-Alto Adige. Lidia leaves open the type of beer to use in the recipe, although she notes that, in testing the recipe, she used a pale ale and a brown ale, such as the Brooklyn East India Pale Ale or the Brooklyn Brown Ale.  Lidia also notes that the darker the beer, the more sweetness would be imparted onto the chicken.   I happen to have some leftover Old Miser from Franklin's Restaurant, Brewery and General Store.  It is an English Strong Ale, which has a very well developed body, primarily due to the use of select malts and molasses.  I thought that the molasses used in making the beer would add some complexity to the flavor of the chicken.  But, you can use really any beer in this recipe.

One other note: although the recipe calls for parsnips, I decided against buying a bag of parsnips because I do not normally cook with them.  However, you can substitute any root vegetable or, in this case, I substituted some potatoes that we had lying around the kitchen. 


POLLO ALLA BIRRA (Roast Chicken with Beer)
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich's
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken
1 carrot, peeled, halved crosswise and quartered
2 medium onions, peeled, quartered through the root
2 medium parsnips (or other root vegetables),
     peeled, halved crosswise and quartered
2 tablespoons of fresh sage leaves
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1 1/2 cups beer (I used an English Strong Ale)
1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons of kosher salt

Directions:
1.  Prepare the chicken.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rinse the chicken thoroughly.  Trim the excess fat of of the chicken and season the chicken (inside and out) with salt.  Although Lidia suggests kosher salt, I used sea salt.

2.  Cook the vegetables and chicken on the stovetop.  Scatter the onions, carrot, parsnips (or other root vegetables), sage, cloves and cinnamon stick in a heavy six-quart ovenproof pot.  Set the chicken on top of the vegetables.  Put the pot on the top of the stove, add the stock, beer and apple cider.   Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat.  Cook, uncovered for about fifteen minutes on top of the stove.

3.  Cook the chicken in the oven.  Put the pot in the oven, cover the chicken and roast the chicken for about thirty minutes, basting the chicken with the pan juices at least two or three times.

4.  Continue to cook the chicken in the oven.  Remove the cover and continue to roast for another twenty to thirty minutes, basting frequently, until the chicken and the vegetables are cooked through and tender.

5.  Finish the dish.  Remove the chicken to a warm platter and surround with the vegetables.  Meanwhile, bring the pan juices to a boil and reduce by half.  Cut the chicken at the table and spoon some of the pan juices over the meat.


The chicken was cooked perfectly.  The meat was very juicy and full of apple flavor from the cider and sweetness from the beer.  As I continue to pick at the meat from the bones while I write this blog, I am satisfied that I have successfully prepared Pollo alla Birra for the first time.  And it will not be the last....

ENJOY!

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