Saturday, March 16, 2019

Chicken Vesuivio

It is the early 1930s. The Great Depression has settled in, but, for some reason, you find yourself at the corner of East Wacker Drive and North State Street.  That intersection near the heart of downtown Chicago. At the corner, you watch Packards and Cords drive by. As you turn your head, something catches your eye. It is an Italian restaurant called Vesuvio.  The hunger pangs in your stomach tell you it is time for a meal.  You walk over to the restaurant and open the door.  Before any person can great you, the smells of Italian food greet your olfactory senses.

You take a step in to the restaurant and survey the wood-paneled walls and thick red curtains.  A host guides you to a table in the corner and provides you with a menu.  You can the offerings, which are traditional Italian-American fare.  One dish catches your attention ... Chicken Vesuvio. (A dish named after the infamous volcano in Calabria, even though the owner of the restaurant was from Turin, which is located in Piedmont.) You decide to order the dish.  What comes next is what becomes not only a traditional Italian-American dish, but a traditional Chicago dish as well.

Chicken Vesuvio was traditionally made with bone-in chicken or, quite frankly, an entire chicken deconstructed into pieces.  The chicken is prepared with potatoes sauteed in garlic, oregano, white wine, and olive oil.  This recipe includes a healthy twist, substituting the bone-in chicken (which would traditionally legs or thighs) with boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

In the end, this is a very tasty dish that provides a window into how Italian immigrants who came to the United States are able to create dishes that become their own traditions.  Now, I will have to try some other Italian-American classics, like Chicken Francese or Penne alla Vodka.   

Recipe from Cooks Country Eats Local, pp. 198-199
Serves 4

4 (6 ounce) boneless, chicken breasts, trimmed
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled, halved
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1.  Brown the chicken.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Brown chicken well, 3 to 4 minutes per side. 

2.  Continue cooking.  Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and heat until shimmering.  Add potatoes, cut side down, and cook until golden brown, about 87 minutes.  Stir in garlic, rosemary, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil.  Return chicken to skillet on top of potatoes.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender and chicken registers 160 degrees, about 12 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken and potatoes to serving platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil.

3.  Finish the sauce.  Increase heat to medium high and cook, uncovered, until sauce is reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes.  Stir in peas and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.  Off heat, whisk in butter and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Pour sauce over chicken and potatoes and serve. 


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