Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Winning Recipe for Oscar Night

"Ligurian Chicken"
Who’s your money on for Best Picture?  Did you pick Gravity in the office pool?  Or maybe you are banking on actor favorite American Hustle to take the gold statuette?  Or perhaps after the Golden Globe Awards, BAFTAs, and various Guilds (Director, Writer, Actor, etc. etc.) you are just ready for this Oscar campaigning to be done with so we can get a jump start on watching the nominees for next year’s race.

No matter who you are rooting for, there’s a pretty good chance you will be part of the 40 million people who tune in Sunday night for the glittery dresses, tearful speeches, inevitable gaffes, and of course, those fateful envelopes.

And if you are cuddling up to the television for the evening, you are going to need something to eat.  Given how long this show runs, might I suggest something hearty enough for the long haul and comforting enough to soothe the pain of watching your favorites lose (or just losing the office pool)?

Typically food for Oscar viewing parties seems to run the theme of elegant cocktail affair, with snack food as dolled up as the starlets themselves- think truffled popcorn, caviar blinis, champagne cocktails, and gold-dusted chocolates.

But you don’t have to wear a cleavage bearing skin-tight dress and stand in front of the cameras, so why not embrace your comfortable digs, throw on some sweatpants and eat something a little more substantial?

As this year would have it, there is some good inspiration hidden in the award nominee lineup.  (No, I’m not talking serving astronaut ice cream in solidarity with Sandra Bullock.)

Between the gorgeous shots of Rome, haunting music, and existential crisis of the main character in Best Foreign Film nominee The Great Beauty, there is actually a recipe- a recipe that ends up being a crucial part of minor character’s personality sketch. 

At a dinner held in honor of a nun nicknamed “The Saint”, a self-absorbed, pampered Catholic Cardinal tries in vain to horde attention as he explains how to make coniglio alla Ligure, or Ligurian Rabbit.  As he walks through the steps of cutting the rabbit into pieces, browning each in olive oil, adding olives, tomatoes, and wine, I had a moment of recognition.  I know this recipe!  In fact, I have been making it for years. 

It all started with a similar recipe from a Jamie Oliver cookbook.  Rabbit, however, can be hard to find.  And though I’m a big fan, I understand some people can’t get past thinking “Thumper” when they see rabbit is on the menu.  So I adapted the recipe to work with chicken, a fine substitute and a universal crowd pleaser. 

Browning the chicken
Essentially, the steps I do are the same as the cardinal’s.  I start by dredging a quartered chicken in seasoned flour then brown each piece in a heavy pot (think Le Creuset) with a good amount of olive oil.  To the pot I add a sliced onion, garlic, pitted olives, chopped tomatoes, and rosemary.  White wine comes up to the sides of the meat and a lid goes on.  Twenty-five minutes later the house is fragrant, and dinner is made.  All you need is a good loaf of crusty bread to sop up the juices. 

All ingredients in the pot
In the movie, the cardinal’s grandstanding may have failed to impress the other dinner guests, but the recipe made an impression on me.  A few nights after watching the film I cut up a small chicken and made a pot of Ligurian Chicken.  John and I polished off a baguette dipping the bread into our bowls to soak up the rich braising liquid. 

There will certainly be well-dressed people on Sunday night who go home empty-handed.  And you might not win the office pool.  But when it comes to viewing party food, there's no excuse to feel glum.  With dish of movie-inspired braised chicken to dig into, everyone is a winner.

Another food that plays a prominent role is the blackberries that Solomon Northrop crushes to make a form of ink in order to write a letter in 12 Years a Slave.  Blackberries are not in season now, but if you can find a pint, a simple dessert of berries with maybe a dollop of whipped cream would be a fitting finish. 

Ligurian Chicken

1 small chicken, quartered
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
3 T. olive oil
1 small onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
8 kalamata olives, pitted
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 spring rosemary
½ bottle dry white wine

salt and pepper to taste

Quarter a small chicken or have your butcher do it for you, leaving skin on.  Mix flour with 1 tsp. salt and ½ tsp. black pepper on a large plate.  Dredge each piece of chicken in the flour mixture shaking off excess.  Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium high heat.  Add breast pieces skin side down.  Cook until crisp and browned.  Turn over for a minute on the other side.  Remove to a plate and let rest.  Add thigh pieces to the pot skin side down.  When thighs are browned on the skin side, turn over.  Add onion and garlic around the chicken thighs.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until onion has begun to soften.  Nestle breast pieces and their juices back in the pot with the thighs and onion.  Scatter olives and tomatoes with their juices around the chicken.  Tuck two sprigs of rosemary in with the chicken.  Add wine until it comes ¾ of the way up the sides of the meat, but do not fully cover.  Bring wine to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low.  Place the pot lid on leaving it slightly askew to let out some steam and allow the wine to reduce.  Cook for about 20-25 minutes until chicken is cooked through and liquid is slightly reduced.  Add additional salt and pepper if necessary to the sauce.  Remove and discard the rosemary.  Serve chicken with the braising liquid and a side of crusty bread. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

No comments:

Post a Comment