“We may have lost paradise because of the apple, but we’ll get it back with cider.”
– Asturian saying
“Reach out your arms, as far apart as possible – one high, one low – then just bend your wrist, but do not look!”, instructed the waitress. “Oh, and beginners like you must stand over the barrel,” she added. I followed her advice exactly but still ended up with a soggy shirt-front and damp shoes, wasting half a bottle.
Even though the cider was cheap, learning to pour it like a local wouldn’t be and accepting I could be thirsty for a long while before I acquired the knack, I invited my hostess to demonstrate proper form. Sure enough, her aim was perfect and my glass was soon two inches deep without the loss of a drop. “Now, drink it! Fast!” she cajoled. “Before it goes flat!”
I hadn’t counted on necking shots of cider at lunchtime, and wondered if I was playing the straight guy in a game of haze the foreigner, but as foamy, appley goodness cascaded down my gullet it started to make sense. Then, after taking my order for broiled razor clams and hake in cider, the waitress turned on her heel for the kitchen, leaving my glass empty. Now eager to drink some more, but reluctant to soak myself further, I reached for the bottle. “No lo mueva!” warned a finger-wagging old guy to my left. “She will pour for you when she returns. And, you should leave a drop in the bottom of the glass. It’s good luck.”
Thanking him for his advice, I sat back and looked around the white-washed room from my seat against the wall. Cut-off barrels half-filled with sawdust littered the blue-tiled floor between tables, along with the usual jumble of crumpled napkins, discarded toothpicks and cigarette ends. Through the open window, small gaily-painted fishing boats bobbed up and down, and their creak and bump as they nagged at their moorings offered a pleasant counterpoint to the hoarse cries of seabirds.
Luarca, on the Asturian coast of northern Spain is still a working port and, the tasca where I sat, the place to enjoy the morning’s catch. From the ruddy faces surrounding me, it was entirely possible that my hake had been landed earlier in the day by a fellow diner. The globe is so well traveled these days that it’s virtually impossible to find anywhere you’re the only foreigner, but in this place, during the off-season, I had managed it. In fact, I was the only guest at the only open hotel in town. An anomaly I was quick to appreciate, because it allowed me to slip into the natural rhythms of local life and prompted me to assume the most humble status, that of being nobody at all. Sure, it removed me from many things, but there’s an advantage to that when all you want to absorb is atmosphere – the feeling that five hundred years could pass in this place and the faces wouldn’t change. What Cees Nooteboom described as “the feeling that everything except time has stopped.“
My razor clams arrived, redolent of garlic and spicy with piperade, followed by tender hake with softened apples, their acidity perfectly balancing the sweetness of the reduced cider sauce. A side of fried potatoes appeared as another two inches of cider found its way neatly into my glass. Lazily enjoying it, happy and relaxed, I barely noticed when it was all gone and the waitress returned. “Postre?” she asked. “Hay queso de cabrales, flan, y frutas frescas, o si usted prefiere, un poco de cada uno.” I opted greedily for the latter, along with a nip of orujo, she returned quickly with a little of each – blue cheese, stick to your teeth caramel pudding, and a pear. “Ningunas manzanas?” I smiled. “Haven’t you had enough apples yet?” she joked back.
Chicken in cider is not necessarily a traditional Asturian preparation, though it might as well be, so while this dish is modeled on the hake in cider I had that day, it is cooked for much longer. Asturian cider is produced from small, tart crabapple type fruit that are no good for eating, the juice of which is fermented for up to six months in oak barrels. It typically registers only 5% alcohol, compared to the seven or eight degrees common in French and English ciders and is rarely carbonated, hence the habit of pouring from a great height to aerate, followed by swift consumption before the froth disappears. Spanish ciders can be found in the US, but domestic varieties like Woodchuck are perfectly acceptable for cooking with. The chanterelles were added to balance out the sweetness of the sauce with an earthy, autumnal boskiness and some slices of eating apple dropped in with five minutes to go offered some crunch and acid to what is a very satisfying dish.
- 1 large chicken cut into primary piece (legs, breasts, etc.)
- 2x12oz (2x355ml) bottles hard cider
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 6oz/2 handfuls chanterelle mushrooms
- 4-6 cloves garlic, smashed, skins removed.
- 1 medium eating apple, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- salt, black pepper and flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- chopped parsley (optional)
- Heat oil to medium-high in large dutch oven, season chicken with salt and pepper, and dust with flour.
- Brown chicken pieces until well browned on all sides.
- Remove to a plate, add onions and garlic, and saute for 6-8 minutes until translucent.
- Return chicken to pot, add mushrooms and pour in cider.
- Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour covered, before removing lid, and simmering uncovered for another 1/2 hour.
- Braising liquid should be reduced by more than half at this point, add raw apples and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.
- Sprinkle with parsley and serve with fried potatoes and plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juices.
18 thoughts on “Pollo en Sidra (Asturian-Style Chicken in Cider): Leaving a Drop in the Glass”
Yes, it might as well be Asturian, I’m sure there must be some Asturian village where they prepare something similar. Do you know my father-in-law came from Luarca? His family moved to Madrid during the Civil War. My husband used to spend his childhood summer vacations there 😉 In fact we visited Luarca last summer (it poured the whole day!) and we were forced to seek refuge in a weird giant squids museum. I always tell you, I love your writing. Cheers.
@Miriam: I did not know that. What a coincidence! It rained the day I was there too, but I think that’s pretty common. I would be glad to spend my summers there, I think. It really is beautiful, except perhaps the squid museum! Thank you, as always, for the compliments! Gratefully received.
I’m a huge hard cider fan. Sometimes I have trouble pouring it in the pot rather than in my glass! Some friends and I did a cider tasting/ potluck a while back- there’s lots available besides Woodchuck for those wanting to branch out:
Goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever been to Asturia but have some niggling memory about the place that I know will dawn on me at 3 am one night soon. Lovely looking chicken and that cider sounds delish… do love all those ciders as a change from wine (since I’m not a beer drinker). Your meal makes me want to visit next time I’m in Spain… the geography is pretty gorgeous!
This looks so delicious and one of my food goals this year is to cook more recipes from Spain. This looks completely doable.
I love that your posts always come with a dose of “Hemingway” and history. Always a pleasure to read and a delicious bite to eat. Now I need to go look for a bottle of Asturian hard cider to satisfy the craving (thanks to you), and who knows, maybe I’ll find paradise along the way.
I make a similar recipe from Normany w/ Calvados, it’s so good. Think that will be on the menu this week! Hope you guys are all well.
I never would have thought of a Spanish cider. I don’t know why. It’s not as if they don’t grow apples.
I have always loved cooking with sweet cider, but have only recently tried cooking with the hard stuff. You’re inspiring me to experiment further.
This looks so delicious! Chicken is one of my favorite meals. I will be sure to try this recipe.
It’s ages since I prepare this dish… Mmmmmm so good :D.
I see that you are still not full ;D
Last time we travelled to Asturias, my husband asked for a fabada for dinner. I thought he would explode… The owner of the restaurant/hotel scolded my husband because he left a bit of fabada on the plate.
@Rachelle: This is a great place to start, dead easy recipe. Almost impossible to mess-up! Buen provecho!
@Zen: you’re too kind. I always try to figure out how to include the lines “to die a noble death, in the rain” in my posts.
@Rachel: cider’s yet another thing the Spanish do well. It’s hard to go wrong with Spanish recipes.
@Nuria: I had the same experience with fabada, except nobody but myself was pushing me to over-eat. At least your husband had an excuse!
Great story as always! Love love love razor clams by the way! I can imagine how well the cider must go with the chicken in this dish!
Is this at all similar to Basque cider? Your description of your experience reminds me of eating in sidrerias in San Sebastian!
Darn–I’m all caught up with your excellent posts. There aren’t enough new ones to keep me happy, so I’m going to start over again with the 2008 archives—not kidding, you both really need to put your stuff in book-form. So many less worthy bloggers have done it–I’m ready for some quality work, anyone else? Little P. needs university money after all….
I just read some very fine books bythese
travel book authors : Pico Iyer, Jan Morris, Paul Theroux —I know, you are probably rolling your eyes saying “is she only NOW finding out about these books???” but just in case…….
Looks gorgeous! I love the presentation and the story behind this dish.
@Emiglia: Yes, very similar to Basque cider. In the Basque country though, it’s more often drawn straight from the barrel in sidrerias.
@Deb: you’ve read them all? That in itself must qualify you for some sort of prize. Thanks, as usual, for the kind words. If you happen to know any publishers, of course, we’d be interested! And, I’m a big fan of Paul Theroux and Jan Morris as well as Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor (for whom Morris often writes introductions). I’ve not read any Pico Iyer, so thanks for that tip. I’ll be definitely be checking out his work!
@Cassandra: thanks for visiting, glad you liked it!
Thanks for the Durrell & Fermor tips–boy, does Amazon love me!!!
I made this chicken today for lunch. I omitted the mushrooms, but otherwise I prepared the dish as written. Simple to put together and really good! Thanks for the recipe.