A few months ago I took a leap of faith in producing my first batch of verjus (verjuice) from an old recipe devised long, long ago by Victoire, an Auvergne woman who features in Madeleine Kamman’s wonderful book, When French Women Cook. First, I had never made verjus before, and certainly not from the immature sour grapes that grow in my garden. Second, this version of verjus isn’t anything like the modern verjus of simple fresh pressed sour grape juice popularised by Australian chef, Maggie Beer – the version most people are used to now. Third, it is also different from both old medieval recipes and traditional Middle Eastern sour grape juice that is preserved by salting. This version uses copious amounts of Armagnac as its preserving agent. In fact, it is more Armagnac than sour grape juice.
So, when the verjus had finally matured and had been decanted, it was “showtime” – a bit daunting to know how to best use this Armagnac verjus. Victoire came to the rescue. Her recipe for Chicken with verjus and raisins, also printed in Kamman’s book, became a source of inspiration. The combination of chicken and the Armagnac verjus makes perfect sense as both poultry (particularly game birds) and pork are natural companions for Armagnac, particularly if combined with dried fruits. However, my eventual recipe jumped from the Auvergne over the Pyrenees into Catalonia.
Armagnac Verjus Chicken with Dried Fruits
This is very loosely based on the concept of Victoire’s recipe with a number of modifications, particularly the absence of cream that appears in the original. Victoire’s raisins are also substituted with a medley of dried fruits soaked in the Armagnac verjus, a sweet-sour combination reminiscent of Catalan cuisine.
- 50g dried sour cherries
- 50g sultanas (golden raisins)
- 50g dried apricots
- 150ml Armagnac verjus (or 100ml Armagnac + 50ml verjus)
- 1 whole chicken cut into pieces – legs, thighs, breast portions
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots
- 150ml chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- salt and pepper
- Handful of flat-leaf parsley
Place the dried fruits in a bowl with the Armagnac verjus. Cover and let the fruit soak for several hours.
Cut the chicken into 8 pieces – 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs and each of the 2 breasts in half making 4 breast pieces. Reserve the rest of the chicken carcass for stock. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and brown the chicken pieces all over, a few at a time.
While the chicken is browning, finely chop the shallots and drain the dried fruit, reserving the soaking liquid. Remove the chicken from the pot and deglaze by sautéing the shallots, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pot. Return the chicken and juices once the shallots are softened. Tuck in the dried fruit around the chicken and pour on the reserved verjus soaking liquid and the stock. Adjust seasoning if required and sprinkle on the thyme.
With the lid on, reduce the heat to a mild simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your chicken pieces. The chicken should be cooked through, but still tender, and the sauce reduced and thickened. Add the chopped parsley and serve on a bed of rice.
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Of course, I also froze simple sour grape juice and preserved another batch of verjus in Tsikoudia, a Greek form of pomace brandy similar to Italian Grappa or French Marc. Both of these versions of vejus will require testing. I suspect that the Tsikoudia version might be delicious with fish and seafood or even some sorts of grilled fruits such as figs. More kitchen experiments to come!