Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chicken with Cinnamon and Lemon

Oh oh oh - this is blissful. Sometimes a dish is so much better than expected the first time you try it that it is quite astonishing. It is how I feel about this one. I found the recipe on line a little while ago and copied it because it sounded interesting and because it came with a good pedigree. There is a small Italian restaurant in central London called Caldesi where I have eaten a few times and always extremely well. I first came across it in connection with Slow Food and have been interested ever since. The BBC recently produced 'Return to Tuscany' about the Caldesi's travails and successes setting up a food school in Italy and some of their recipes are on the bbc site, my source for this one. Looked promising.

While we were in Bali we went to some local markets and one of the spices they sell is what they call cinnamon, though in fact it is 'bastard cinnamon' or cassia. It has much thicker bark and is rougher in texture and less delicate in fragrance. Cassia sticks can be distinguished from true cinnamon sticks fairly easily - cinnamon sticks have many thin layers and can easily be made into powder using a coffee or spice grinder, whereas cassia sticks are extremely hard, are usually made up of one thick layer and can break an electric spice or coffee grinder if you attempt to grind them without first breaking them into very small pieces. So, be warned!

What the cinnamon adds here, along with the subtle flavours of the bay and lemon and the soffritto is a kind of delicate complexity that takes this dish into territory I didn't know. It was something about scent and depth of flavour as well as the juicy chicken and the unctuousness of the sauce.

Chicken with Cinnamon & Lemon

For the soffritto
8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig rosemary
4 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, zest only

For the chicken
flour, for coating
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 chicken pieces
olive oil, for frying
100ml/3½fl oz white wine
1 lemon, juice only
4 cinnamon sticks
200ml/7fl oz chicken stock

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, rosemary and bay leaves until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the rosemary sprig and bay leaves and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the grated lemon zest. Set to one side.
Meanwhile, for the chicken, mix the flour with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and coat the chicken pieces in this mixture. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the chicken until golden brown. Add the wine and cook for five minutes. Add the chicken and wine reduction to the soffritto, then add the lemon juice and cinnamon. Stir well. Add the stock and cook on a low heat, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced and the chicken is completely cooked through. Take off the lid and cook gently for another 15-20 minutes till the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove the cinnamon sticks and serve immediately with white rice.

Absolutely amazing.

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