When I was five years old, I accompanied Papa (my grandpa) to the open market on Maunakea Street in Honolulu. These were special trips, and we ignored bins of fresh vegetables, meat hanging on hooks and colorful fish piled on ice on our way to a small shop lined with cages. I was entertained by live chickens, brown and white birds, proudly clucking and strutting. Grandpa examined each cage and eventually picked two or three. The shopkeeper tied the chicken’s feet and wrapped each bird tightly in white butcher paper. I was allowed to sit in the back seat to watch them as they lay still on their sides, heads sticking out, eyes blinking and occasionally a cluck.
At home, Mama placed a large metal bucket about two feet wide and one foot high on the kitchen floor. As she poured boiling water into the bucket, Papa deftly broke the chickens’ necks, cut off their heads, and we proceeded to remove feathers after the chickens were placed in the water. On those weekends, our extended family had fried chicken and various chicken soups and stews. Every part of the chicken, including the necks, feet and some of the innards, were used.
Because I was willing (eager actually) to help in the process, especially in the pulling of the feathers, I was allowed first pick at the chicken pieces. Inevitably, I selected pieces with the most skin. The wings, drumsticks and thighs were mine for the asking. Today I still choose dark meat pieces – on Thanksgiving, in a KFC bucket, at a potluck. I often replace chicken thighs for breasts when I cook.
I was therefore delighted to find a recipe on americastestkitchen.com specifically designed to optimize dark meat attributes. The host of America’s Test Kitchen (ATK), Christopher Kimball, explained that the collagen in dark meat turns into gel and absorbs a lot of liquid. The tendency of white meat, on the other hand, is to lose water and dry out during the cooking process.
This is an Italian braised dish that uses common pantry items. I dried and peppered nine pieces of chicken thighs and set that aside while I prepared the braising sauce.
To oil that was shimmering hot, I added about three ounces of prosciutto that was cut about 1/2 inch thick and diced into 1/4 inch cubes. After cooking this until it was lightly browned, I added four garlic cloves that were sliced lengthwise. As I set it aside, I wanted to make sure that it would be okay, and tasted a couple of pieces of prosciutto. It was “okay” (excellent!).
Next, I upped the temperature, added a little more olive oil and set the chicken in, skin side down. Although the written recipe called for skinning the thighs, the video noted that the crisping of the skin is part of the tastiness of this dish. Of course I kept the skin on!
I removed the chicken after about five minutes on each side, then reduced the oil to a couple of tablespoons. I added two cups of Mondavi chardonnay and a cup of chicken broth and while it simmered that for a few minutes, I scraped the chicken crusted at the bottom to get every bit into the sauce. I added four cloves, two bay leaves, twelve sage leaves and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. I stripped a four-inch stem of rosemary of its leaves, added the stem to the sauce and chopped up the leaves to use at the end. I then nestled the chicken, skin side up, into this liquid and stuck the pan into the 325 degree oven.
I prepared two simple side dishes that would complement the strong flavors of chicken canzanese. Al dente gemilli pasta sprinkled with fresh parsley and topped with chopped fresh tomatoes was light and perfect for soaking up the sauce. Steamed fresh asparagus rounded off the palate with its distinct flavor.
After about an hour and 15 minutes, I removed the pan from the oven and placed the chicken in its serving dish. I discarded all the leaves, simmered the sauce until it reduced to a little over a cup, and added the chopped up rosemary leaves, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of butter. I poured the sauce over the chicken and it was ready to serve.
CHICKEN CANZANESE – CRISPY SKIN, SUCCULENT MEAT, AND A RICH, FLAVORFUL SAUCE!
Note: Many thanks to America’s Test Kitchen for their videos. While their written recipes are clear and instructional, their videos bring the cooking process to life and even someone like me can replicate their dishes.