In addition to my main stores in the garage pantry, I keep a small stash of jarred goods in a corner of one of my way-too-deep and inconveniently-high kitchen cabinets (the extra-convenient one above the fridge). I was pawing through the jars the other day (balanced precariously on the invaluable kitchen step stool), hoping I could avoid a snowy trip downstairs to pick up a jar of salsa, when I unearthed a dusty jar of drunken cherries: from 2009. Oops.
While I have no doubt that acidic cherries sitting in a bath of booze & sugar for four years are still safe to eat (in terms of botulism or other nasties) and the seal was still intact, the color of the fruit was decidedly the worse for wear, and I suspected the texture had suffered similarly. It seemed best to use up these old beauties in something cooked; perhaps something savory. Add to that the fact that I had a whole chicken sitting in the refrigerator that had been there for nearly a week and really needed to be cooked and, well: you can see how Drunken Cherry Chicken was born.
I’ll never be able to thank Jamie Oliver enough for sharing the trick of a good, solid browning of a whole chicken before putting it in to braise. It not only makes the skin that much more delightful in the final bird, it adds so very much savory flavor to the reduction sauce: you can practically throw anything in there with the bird and it will turn out beautifully. So, please, whatever you do, don’t skimp on that step: yes, it takes 15 minutes, but they are 15 very worthwhile minutes, and once they’re complete, you’re nearly ready to pop the bird in the oven and ignore it for 45 more. Plenty of time to clean up, make some rice, and pour yourself a cocktail. While you have the bottle out and all.
- 1 whole chicken, about 3 lbs
- Kosher salt
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled & sliced
- 1 scant tsp chipotle chile flakes
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 pint drunken cherries, with juice
- 1 pint water
- 1 cup whiskey (or port wine, brandy or other brown liquor)
- salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- rice or other grain, for serving (I used a soft, slightly sticky Arborio rice: it was lovely)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Rinse and pat dry the chicken (or don’t, as you like). Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt and allow to rest, open to the air and at room temperature, while you prep the remaining ingredients.
- Brown chicken. In a medium (5-quart) Dutch oven, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until butter foam subsides. Carefully add the chicken (oil will spit), breast-side down, and allow to fry in the oil, without disturbing, until skin is nicely browned, 3 – 5 minutes. Using two sturdy wooden spatulas, carefully turn the bird to brown all sides, about 3 – 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a clean plate and pour off all but 1 tbsp of the fat (reserve remaining fat for another recipe).
- Sauté vegetables. Add onions and garlic to the pot and stirring, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat and sauté vegetables until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add chipotle and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add balsamic, cherries + juice, water and whiskey, scraping the bottom of the pot once again. Raise heat and bring the liquid to a boil. Return chicken to the pot, add a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
- Braise chicken. Cover pot and transfer to the preheated oven. Braise chicken until cooked through (internal temperature at the breast reads at least 170 degrees F), about 45 minutes. Remove lid from pot during the last 10 minutes of cooking for a crispier skin, or raise oven temperature to broil for the last 5 minutes of cooking and keep close watch on the chicken skin to prevent burning. Remove chicken from pot and allow to rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes prior to carving.
- Reduce sauce & serve. Meanwhile, bring the sauce in the pot to a boil over high heat and boil, stirring occasionally, until volume is reduced by about 3/4 and sauce is syrupy, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings: add a bit of sugar or honey if it needs sweetening, some salt, pepper, chipotle or balsamic if it needs a bit of a kick. I added about 2 tbsp raw sugar. Ladle sauce over chicken and serve with rice, potato or other grain, or with a simple green salad.
- One teaspoon of chipotle flakes gave this a nice smokiness with a healthy, but not overwhelming, kick of spice. Adjust amounts according to your palate. Smoked paprika is a nice lower-heat option.
- So you say you didn’t put up any drunken cherries last summer? What were you thinking? But, never fear: substitute 2 cups (about 1 lb) fresh or frozen cherries and add an extra cup of your booze of choice. You may want to add some sugar for sweetness and/or thickening at the reducing stage.
- What’s that? You don’t have drunken cherries or a stash of frozen cherries? How do you live? Seems like this recipe will adapt to any boozy fruit concoction you can dream up. Just know that when it comes to fruit + booze + meat, it’s hard to go wrong.
Refrigerated for up to 3 days.