Victoire’s Verjus Part II

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_feature

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.

Verjus_chicken_driedfruit

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.

Armagnac_verjus_chicken_prep1

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.

Armagnac_verjus_chicken_prep2

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.

Armagnac_verjus_chicken_finishedIt is useful to have a poubelle de la table for discarding bones at the table

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Postscript:
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!

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18 comments

  1. This looks so delicious, I might have to take up chicken eating again. Great to know the verjuice was a success. Loving that book. Made some creamed lentils from the book, forget which woman, and they were sensational. Any more books popping up soon?

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  2. The simplicity of the chicken dish must have been a true test of the quality of the verjuice. Did it taste strongly of the armagnac or did the tart grape juice hold it’s own? I think it would be really interesting if you taste tested the three verjuice versions side by side.

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    • I tried a taste of the verjus before adding it to anything. It tasted lovely and sour and not too strongly of Armagnac, though you could tell it was there. Allowing it to mature really transformed it. I think pairing it with the dried fruits was a good idea and of course combining it with the other savoury ingredients in the pot produced something slightly sweet sour. The Armagnac did not overpower, but enhanced. The whole thing was very moreish and I will certainly make it again. I don’t think the other versions of the verjus would have done as well in the circumstances and I think they need their own pairings. I also tasted the tsikoudia based one and it is similarly sour with a hint of alcohol. Tsikoudia is often used in fish/shellfish dishes and I’ve also seen it used with baked figs, so that verjus might do better with those sorts of ingredients. And, I think I’ll keep the plain frozen sour grape juice cubes in reserve for lighter dishes and veggies.

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    • I have three different creatures! The armagnac-infused verjus really is sour with only a hint of the original alcohol. It is a similar situation with the tsikoudia one. But, I reasoned that they should probably be paired with food that the original alcohol goes well with. So, Armagnac with poultry. It was delicious and I must try it with pork next time. Nice to have ingredients to play around with.

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  3. I’m glad your verjus was such a success. I would make this chicken recipe right now if I had the ingredients, but hope to have a better verjus crop next year – so will bookmark it.

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    • Must ask my (Chemistry PhD) son what in heavens name is metabisulphite. I try not to add too many sulphates to things as it triggers migranes (with me, at least). But, you are right, raw sour grape juice needs something to preserve it. I’ve just gone down the alcohol route – which surprisingly does not trigger those headaches! The addition of Armagnac made a delicious verjus – still sour with just a hint of the brandy.

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  4. You never fail to amaze me. I love that you’re making verjus. I read her book on your recommendation and the recipes were so unique I didn’t even think of attempting them. Then again I don’t have any grape vines here in NYC. What a beautiful recipe. I’m making something similar tonight with red wine, actually using the porcini mushrooms I bought for your dolmade recipe. I’m also a huge fan of Armagnac. Thank you for this.

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    • If you can get past the formality of the way the recipes are written and just look at the ingredients, the food is really good – different, but good. A lot of cream, though! I can’t cook from Julia Child; she and Kamman were contemporaries. Ce qui est bon pour l’un, est bon pour l’autre.

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    • I never had anything to do with it before, either. However, I had all these juicy unripe grapes growing in my garden that I wanted to put to use. The resulting verjus is very good – nice and mildly sour. However, I leave it up to you to decide if you want to try it. I know that, commercially, it can be expensive.

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  5. Does this dish ever sound good! I’ve never tried verjus of any kind so it looks like I’ve got some searching to do. Without any source for sour grapes, homemade verjus isn’t really feasible. Never say never. If there are grape vines growing in this neighborhood, I’ll find them. 🙂

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    • It was soooo good. My husband has spread the word among his colleagues and now they want it when they come to dinner. I’m wondering if I could cook it in my clay pot (à la Celia) which will probably ensure there is more of the sauce. Will need to try. If you can find those unripe grapes in your neighbourhood, it is worth the effort extracting the juice. Combining the juice with Armagnac was a good experiment – as the verjus matured, it transformed into something different. The same can be said of the batch I made with the tsikoudia (grappa). And, I think the few pricked unripe grapes put in the bottom of the jars may have helped in the transformation.

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