Poulet Vallée d’Auge, Devon style

On holiday in Devon a friend boasted that I would appreciate his cooking skills if he made a famous Normandy chicken dish from the Vallée d’Auge, which incorporates cream, cider, apples and Calvados, the apple brandy. Devon, with its bounty of cream, cider and apples, seemed the perfect place to recreate it. But my friend couldn’t remember the exact recipe, so we cooked it together and I added some shallots for the wonderful sweetness they impart. It may not have been quite a classic dish but it was truly delicious. Plain steamed potatoes and a green vegetable or carrots go best with the creamy sauce.

Ingredients

  • 6 free range or cornfed chicken breast joints
  • 600 ml/1 pint dry cider
  • 350 g/12 oz shallots
  • 3 dessert apples
  • 25 g/1 oz butter
  • 150 ml/¼ pint Calvados
  • 300 ml/½ pint double cream
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Method

Pierce the skin of the chicken joints in several places to allow the cider marinade to penetrate the flesh. Lay the chicken in a roasting pan, pour the cider over it, cover the pan with cling film and leave to marinate in a cool place for at least 3 hours, turning the chicken every now and then.

Meanwhile, peel the shallots but keep them whole. When ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Remove the cling film from the roasting pan but leave the chicken in the marinade. Make sure the pieces are skin-side upwards. Place the peeled shallots amongst the chicken and sprinkle all over with salt and black pepper. Cook towards the top of the oven for about 1 hour, until the chicken has browned and the shallots feel soft when you insert a small sharp knife in the centre.

While the chicken is cooking, core the unpeeled apples and slice across in rings about 5 mm/¼ level in thick. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a gentle heat and fry the apple rings on both sides until soft and pale gold. Leave in the pan on top of the stove.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the roasting pan with the shallots and place in a single layer in a warmed shallow dish. Pour the Calvados into a saucepan, bring to the boil, hold a lighted match over the pan until the liquid bursts into flame and then pour it all over the chicken. Keep warm in a very low oven while you make the sauce.

Pour the cider marinade and chicken juices (carefully pouring off excess fat first) into a largish saucepan and boil up fiercely over a high heat for 6-12 minutes, until well reduced to about a quarter of the original amount. Then stir in the cream and boil up again for about 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Taste, add salt and pepper if needed and pour all over the chicken and shallots. Garnish with the fried apple slices and serve at once.

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