A few weeks ago I bought a gallon of fresh apple cider that never got finished and the last few cups of it have been staring me in the face every time I open the fridge door. It was starting to ferment just a bit so was not pleasant for drinking but I hated to waste it. So I married it with a package of chicken thighs and this recipe was born. I’ll be making this again as it’s a perfect fall meal–comfort food in the extreme! I think this would lend itself perfectly to a crockpot meal if you brown the chicken first and then cook it in the cider and chicken broth. You could probably add the leeks right to the pot but they would take on the cider flavor which would make it different but probably still delicious. You could simplify the mashed potatoes or flavor them with whatever your family prefers–or roasted root vegetables would be a great starch alternative. There is fresh thyme in the cider broth so I used just a touch of it in the potatoes too and it complemented perfectly. This is a nice dish for casual entertaining but it can also be an easy family favorite if you substitute the melted leeks (which take almost an hour to get soft enough at low heat) with a quicker vegetable side.
First the chicken, you won’t believe how flavorful this becomes with just a few inexpensive ingredients!
6-8 chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
1 cup apple cider
2 cups chicken stock (or broth)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper
Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy bottomed pan (I used a cast iron skillet) brown the chicken thighs skin side down to render out some of the fat. Turn and brown opposite side. Remove chicken from pan. Pour out fat and discard. Deglaze the pan with cider scraping up all the brown bits. Add the thighs, skin side up back to the pan. Add chicken broth and thyme sprigs and bring to a simmer (or add entire batch to crockpot at this point). Simmer, loosely covered, for about an hour and a half basting occasionally. Remove the chicken from the pan to a cookie sheet and place in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, skin side up, to crisp the skin. Meanwhile, increase the heat on the remaining broth and reduce to a lightly syrupy consistency–the flavors will become very concentrated and a little goes a long way. You can skip this step and just use the cooking liquid which is tasty to begin with, but it’s worth the extra time to reduce it.
While you are braising the chicken, it’s a good time to get the leeks started. Take two large leeks and trim off the bottom and the tough green parts so you are left with just white and very light green. Cut them in half lengthwise and rinse carefully in the sink being sure to separate the layers to get all of the grit out. Slice them to about 1/4 inch thickness and set aside. Meanwhile melt half a stick of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add the leeks and about a teaspoon of salt and cook on very low heat for about an hour stirring occasionally. You don’t want them browned, just softened until they melt in your mouth and no longer squeak against your teeth when you chew them. When fully softened check the seasoning and add a touch more salt if necessary and a few grinds of fresh pepper. These complement the sweetness of the chicken and tanginess of the goat cheese mashed potatoes perfectly!
Finally, the mashed potatoes…yummy! Everybody has their own favorite way of making mashed potatoes–mine is with a potato ricer. If you’ve never used one, picture a giant garlic press. You can put the cooked potato, still in the peel and whole if they are smallish or halved if they are larger into it and squeeze out perfectly smooth and fluffy tiny worms of mashed potato. (kids love it!) There are never any lumps, they don’t get gummy, and you don’t have to peel and chop them. To make it even easier, I cook mine in the microwave which is faster than boiling and doesn’t make them waterlogged.
This recipe serves 4 (…as a side dish, one if you eat it out of the bowl with a spoon for lunch! Not that I did that or anything….I’m just saying…one hungry person who loves mashed potatoes could
theoretically eat the entire bowl in one sitting…)
6-8 medium potatoes (Yukon Gold)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 stick of butter
1 Tbl olive oil
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
Mash the potatoes using your preferred method. Place the milk and butter into a microwave safe dish and heat for one minute. Pour the milk/butter into the potatoes and stir until fully incorporated. Add more milk if you prefer. Stir in olive oil, goat cheese and thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Plate the mashed potatoes, add a couple of tablespoons of the leeks and top with the chicken. Drizzle the cider reduction around and on top and garnish with fresh thyme. A perfect combination of savory and sweet this dish is unbelievably satisfying!