This recipe from the Waitrose magazine immediately caught my eye, as I’ve liked calvados ever since a memorable stay in Normandy that included rolling home to our tent in an apple orchard after eating a wonderful meal ending with a potent calvados sorbet. Pheasant braised with calvados and cream used to be a regular Christmas lunch dish – perfect for two. I remember it as a Constance Spry recipe though I now can’t find it in my much-loved copy of her classic Cookery Book (my friend Richard has reminded me that Faisan Normand is actually in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking); however, Poulet à la Normande, on which this recipe is based, is there. This cookery book was published in the year I was born. I started reading and cooking from my mother’s pink hardback (which my brother still has) as a teenager, and was given my own copy when I left home. It is the source of the splendid Belvoir Lemon Pudding, which became the traditional family pudding for special get-togethers, and deserves to be as well known as its heavier cousin Sussex Pond Pudding.
Back to the chicken: this is a straightforward recipe and ideal for a dinner party as most of the preparation can be done in advance. All you have to do at the last minute is cook any vegetables, finish the sauce and carve the chicken. Waitrose suggest serving it with bread but we had it with mashed parsnips and spinach, which I thought were a better accompaniment – the parsnips went particularly well with the chicken, soaking up the creamy sauce with its heady scent of calvados. It was absolutely delicious!
200g smoked bacon lardons (might try with 100g next time)
1.5Kg free-range chicken
5 echallion shallots, peeled and halved
3 cox or russet apples, unpeeled, cored and cut into quarters
(I used a large Howgate’s Wonder – an excellent, tart cooking/eating apple)
5 sprigs tarragon
100ml chicken (or vegetable) stock
1 tbsp cider vinegar
75ml calvados (5 tbsps)
4 tbsp double cream
Preheat the oven to 160° C/140°C Fan/Gas Mark 3. Heat a casserole large enough to take the chicken over a medium heat and fry the lardons for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden. Scoop out leaving their fat behind.
Season the chicken, turn up the heat slightly and add breast-side down so it’s leaning on one side. Fry for 10 minutes until skin is deep golden brown, then brown the other breast and finally the bottom of the chicken. Lift out and set aside.
Fry the shallots and apples for 2 minutes until they start to colour. Add 2 tarragon sprigs and the stock. Simmer for a minute, scraping up any golden bits on the base of the pan. Sit the chicken on top, breast-side up, put into the oven and roast for 1 hour. Chop the remaining tarragon leaves and prepare your vegetables.
Remove the casserole, remove the chicken and leave to rest under a loose piece of foil on the carving board for at least 15 minutes. Discard the tarragon sprigs, put the casserole back on the hob and add the vinegar and calvados. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes until syrupy. Add the chopped tarragon and stir in with the cream and lardons to heat through.
Carve the chicken, returning any juices to the pan, and serve in deep plates with the sauce spooned over.