Friday, March 27, 2009

Braised Chicken with Sherry & Almonds

Sherry is a fortified wine from Spain: specifically an area near the town of Jerez in the southern province of Cadiz. Since the 1930s, the name Sherry has been legally protected (like the name Champagne), and any vintner who labels a wine sherry that isn't produced in the Jerez region is subject to prosecution.

Fortified wines (which include Port, Madeira and Marsala) are those wines that have had a stronger alcohol--usually grape brandy--added to them. They can have a consistent style and level of sweetness, or there can be a range from dry to sweet. This is true of sherry, which ranges from very dry (fino or manzanilla) to a dessert-style wine often labeled Cream Sherry. In between are amontillado (you may remember the cask of Edgar Allan Poe fame) and oloroso.

For cooking purposes (in the recipe below), you'll be fine with a dry sherry, and in fact you can buy the cheaper American versions of sherry that are required to call themselves "American sherry." Just don't buy something in the supermarket called cooking sherry, because it has salt added to it and is dreadful.

Braised Chicken with Sherry & Almonds
Serve the chicken and sauce over rice, barley, pasta or even slices of toasted whole wheat baguette.

2 red bell peppers, cut lengthwise into flat panels
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon paprika, preferably smoked
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken (breast and/or thigh)
5 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup dry sherry
2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) diced tomatoes
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chopped parsley

1. Preheat the broiler. Broil the bell pepper pieces, skin-side up, 4 inches from the heat for 12 minutes or until the skin is charred. Turn the pepper pieces skin-side down on the broiler pan to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into 1/2-inch-wide slices.
2. Cut the chicken into large serving pieces (in thirds for breasts, in half for thighs). In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour.
3. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
4. Add the sherry to the pan and cook at a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, for 2 minutes to reduce the liquid.
5. Add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, almonds, red pepper flakes and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 5 minutes (or longer if you want; this is to break the tomatoes down a bit).
6. Return the chicken to the pan, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through but still juicy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

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