Sherry poached chicken with shallots

It’s time for miniature vegetables in all the sherry. Yeah? Yeah. Sherry is great – more on that later.

Sherry poached chicken

Without the disembiggened carrots and twee micro-onions, this would just be a pallid coq au vin. But because the base flavours are quite timid, it felt like an opportunity to let the sherry shine. Plus, I really wanted to write a recipe that included the instruction “now pour in a bottle of sherry”. I’ve stopped a little short of that, but you’ll still need most of a pint of crisp, delicious fino.

Why sherry?

Because it’s fucking gorgeous. Now, some background.

Back when “Brits being dicks abroad” was more about going to another country and stealing it than just vomiting all over a high street, Francis Drake legged it from the smoking remains of Cadiz with nearly three thousand barrels of sherry on the back of a boat. Sherry was ascendant. It’d been drunk in Britain for about seventy years before that, and we continued necking it in astonishing quantity until some time around the sixties. Basically, about then the quality of what was being imported went through the floor (flor?), and it wasn’t until 1993 that sherry gained enough regional protection/recognition to start clawing some quality back in the UK market. If you’re interested, one of my colleagues has written a neat little article on the joys of sherry.

Sherry. Fino and Manzanilla Pasada
Fino and Manzanilla Pasada

Sadly, that quality drop means that most of my (and my parents’) generation haven’t really grown up with sherry, and certainly not the good stuff. So lately, it’s fallen into two categories: sticky brown sugar water, and “is it meant to smell like that? I think it might be off”.

No, it is not meant to smell like that. Yes, it is off.

Pale sherry doesn’t keep, and you need to treat it like white wine. It’s delightful on a summer evening with some bread and a little dish of olives. Chill it, drink it soon after opening, and don’t leave it at the back of a cupboard for months unless you’re specifically trying to upset a troublesome aunt over Christmas. The sweet stuff lasts a bit longer, but you probably shouldn’t buy it unless it’s an actual Pedro Ximénez. Basically, ignore it if it says “cream” on the bottle.

Thanks to some enthusiastic friends, I’ve been discovering sherry in the last year or so, and fallen head over heels for Palo Cortado. It’s dry and complex, and ever so slightly nutty, and I just love the stuff. I’m drinking buckets of this one) But I’ve not really cooked with sherry, so here’s an attempt to remedy that.

Happily, González Byass sell a perfectly servicable (if not exactly remarkable) fino to Tesco. You can pick it up for seven quid, and although I’m more or less happy to drink it, it’s ideal for cooking with. If you want to go up a notch or two without breaking the bank, Lustau produce most of the sherries at M&S, and the prices are reasonable. If you’re lucky enough to have a great wine merchants on hand, Jerez is your oyster. I probably wouldn’t make this with anything too dark though.

Ingredients:

  • Chantenay carrots and shallots Chicken thighs, one large one per person. You could use legs.
  • Shallots, about three times as many as chicken thighs.
  • Chantenay carrots, or other small ones, in similar quantity to the shallots.
  • Flat leaf parsley.
  • Thyme.
  • Sherry, probably fino, and most of a bottle.
  • A little stock, maybe 100-200 ml?

Instructions:

Bone the thighs if you prefer them that way, and fry them off in a little oil, to get some browning on the skins.

When they’re a good colour, put them into a large, heavy casserole dish, and fry the shallots and carrots in their fat for a few minutes until they’ve got a little colour too. Deglaze with some sherry, and add these to the casserole too. Add a good pinch of thyme, a little pepper, and a handful of rough-chopped flat leaf parsley.

Frying chicken thighsTop it up with most of the rest of the bottle of sherry, and a little stock, so that it’s just covered.

Put a lid on it, and leave it in the oven on around 180c for about 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and put it back for another 30-40 mins or so to reduce and finish. We’re essentially concentrating flavour here, and the liquid level wants to reduce by something approaching half.

The first time I did this, I took it down quite dry, and then topped back up with sherry, to ensure a freshness to the flavour. This is entirely optional, depending on what the hassle/giving-a-shit curve looks like for you.

Last night, I served this with a loose imitation of Hawksmoor’s devilled sprouting broccoli (the book is great, but the index is terrible. It’s on p166), and some creamy mash. I actually think it’d take butter beans quite well, or a tapas-influenced broad bean side. The broccoli thing didn’t work so well, since it’s a spiced emulsion sauce built around mustard and anchovy butter, and I’d forgotten to buy anchovies. But the whole meal came together nicely.

The chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender, and the shallots and carrots bring a sweetness that balances what could otherwise be a rather dry, sharp sauce. It’s got a creaminess to it from the long cooking, but retains a light freshness. It doesn’t taste of sherry exactly – lots of the character has softened off, leaving something rich and just slightly unusual. I am so doing this again.

We had this with a bottle of Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada, which is a single-vineyard Manzanilla with a really fresh, olive-ish character, and I can’t recommend it enough.

References:

This kind of popped into my head a few weeks ago. But based on a little looking, it’s been done before. These look cool:

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