Chicken Smothered in Sweet Onion Cream with Country Ham

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

In this famous dish from southwest France, chicken is infused with the flavors of meltingly tender onions, Armagnac, and silky-salty Bayonne ham, for which prosciutto makes an admirable substitute.

If you think slicing up two pounds of onions will result in a lot of eye watering, try this method I learned in southwest France: sprinkle the chopping board with a few drops of vinegar. If that doesn't help, sprinkle a few more drops of vinegar directly on the onions as you slice them. When all the onions are sliced, simply rinse them under running water to remove the vinegar. Washing won't spoil their flavor. In fact, the onions should be wet for this dish so they won't burn but will slowly wilt as they cook. The addition of a little water softens them up before the sugars are released. Once soft, they will naturally turn golden.


  • 3 tablespoons rendered duck fat or extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds sweet onions, such as Vidalia, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 4 ounces dry-cured ham, such as Bayonne or prosciutto, trimmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 chicken breast halves on the bone (about ½ pound each), cut crosswise in half
  • 3 whole chicken legs (about ¾ pound each), separated into drumsticks and thighs
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Flour, for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons Armagnac or other brandy
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • cup finely chopped, drained canned tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley


  1. Most dry-cured hams need to be soaked in water before cooking. Rinse the ham; soak in several changes of water if very salty for about 10 minutes. If using prosciutto, there is probably no need to soak it. Drain and pat dry Finely dice to make 1 cup.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the duck fat or olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole. Stir in the onions, ham, garlic, and bay leaf. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until cooked down and very wet, about 1¼ hours. Uncover and remove from the heat.
  3. When the onions have simmered for 1 hour, begin to prepare the chicken. Working in batches, season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and lightly dust with flour, tapping off any excess. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon fat or oil and, when almost smoking, add half the chicken, skin side down. Cook over medium-high heat until crusty and a deep golden brown. Turn and brown the other side, about 10 minutes total. Using tongs, arrange the chicken on top of the onions in the casserole. Repeat the seasoning, flouring, frying, and transferring of the remaining chicken.
  4. Pour off the fat from the skillet. Add the Armagnac and wine. Using a long kitchen match, carefully ignite the mixture while it is still warm. When the flames subside, add ½ cup water and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the skillet. Add the tomatoes and cook down to a juicy caramelized glaze, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour over the chicken.
  5. Cover the casserole and simmer over moderately low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes for the breasts and 25 to 30 minutes for the thighs and drumsticks; transfer the chicken pieces to a deep platter as they are done. Keep under a foil tent. If necessary, boil the sauce over high heat, stirring, until reduced to 2 cups. Correct the seasoning with salt and plenty of black pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve, garnished with a sprinkling of parsley.