Apple chicken from a favorite cookbook

Sometimes it's good to dust off an old recipe and try a new adaptation. Apple chicken, cooked with caramelized onions, sweet apples, and apple cider vinegar is a perfect fall dish.

The Garden of Eating
Reduce cream, chicken broth, and apple cider vinegar and add cooked apple slices to make a sauce for the chicken. Serve with rice to soak up all the sauce.

The Silver Palate was the first cookbook I ever bought for myself. I was living in Boston, stumbling through my first year out of college and feeling rather lost, in general, when I came across it in the Brookline Booksmith. My friend, Ali, whom I'd lived with the previous three years at Wesleyan, and who is both a great cook and the daughter of a great cook, had told me good things about it so I decided to splurge.

At that point in my life, a $15 cookbook definitely counted as a splurge as I was positively raking in the cash at my $14 an hour research assistant job. And that was a big step up from my previous job where I'd made a whopping $11 an hour as a medical assistant in an OB/GYN office in order to see if nurse midwifery might be right for me.

I liked the book so much that, a few years later, after I'd ruled out both midwifery and research as careers, I bought Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins' much-expanded tome, The New Basics Cookbook. This chicken and apple dish was one of the first recipes I tried, drawn by its combination of caramelized onions, sweet apples, apple cider vinegar and cream. I've since made it many more times as I am a sucker for the combination of creamy, sweet, and piquant that it offers. 

It's been several years since I've made it but I happily dusted it off last week after a field trip with my son's class to the Stone Ridge Orchard. It was a surprisingly glorious fall day that may be the last warm spell we get until 2013 or, maybe not, given the craziness of the weather nowadays.

The weather has since turned decidedly nippier – it seems that real fall is upon us now. But the chilly air and falling leaves are a perfect backdrop for a warm, hearty dish like this. I love the way that caramelizing the apples turns them wonderfully creamy and sweet.

It's easy to make and goes well with rice – the lovely sauce needs something to soak it up. Try it with some cider-glazed delicata squash or baked sweet potatoes. The slightly adapted recipe follows – I've simplified it a tiny bit to make it less fussy and a little less time-consuming.

Apple Chicken  
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook
Serves 4

3 apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, or MacIntosh, or a combination) 
1/2 lemon (optional - see step 1 below)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
2 whole, boneless, skinless, organic chicken breasts (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
1/4 cup chicken broth (I use my chicken "stock-sicles" for small amounts of broth like this)
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Core apples, peel them and cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Rub them with the lemon to prevent discoloration. (You can skip this step if you're in a hurry – I usually do!) Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet and sauté the apples over medium-low heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle them with sugar, raise the heat, and cook over high-heat until lightly browned on all sides, shaking the pan constantly to prevent the apple slices from sticking. Set the apples aside.

2. Rinse the chicken well and pat it dry. Cut each chicken breast in half along the breastbone line. Flatten each breast half with a meat pounder until thin.

3. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet. Raise the heat, add the chicken, and cook until it is lightly colored, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.

4. Add the onion to the skillet, cover and cook until it is tender and slightly caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to high, and add the vinegar. Cook the mixture down to a syrup, about 1 minute. Then whisk in the cream, stock, and salt.

5. Return the chicken to the skillet and simmer gently in the sauce, basting often, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the chicken is cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not overcook.

6. Remove the chicken breasts with a slotted spoon, and arrange them on heated plates (15 minutes in a 200 degrees F. oven, but not absolutely necessary). Add the apple slices to the skillet; cook over high heat until the sauce has reduced and the apples are thoroughly heated, about 1 minute. Spoon the apples around the chicken and pour the sauce over it. Serve immediately.

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