Basque chicken

I seem to get through an awful lot of bell peppers at this time of year, when sunshine is a dim and distant memory. This dish is a rich and glossy version of the traditional Poulet Basquaise, where the sweetness of the peppers works deliciously against tiny pieces of salt pork and the savoury chicken.

I got hold of a strip of salt pork from the Polish deli in Newmarket. (Just off Fred Archer Way, by the short-stay carpark on Wellington St.) A lot of towns, especially here in East Anglia, now have Polish stores selling some really fantastic preserved meats like smoked sausages and fat salt pork. I’ve also been using our local one to stock up on soused herrings, some great pickles and the holy grail – cartons of cherry juice. If you have a Polish shop near you, go in at the weekend and have a rummage; you’ll find some really interesting ingredients and, if you’re lucky, will discover a new addiction to that cherry juice.

Salt pork is much fattier than English bacon, and it’s not smoked. Stock up if you find some; it keeps for months in the fridge. There should be more fat in a slice than meat. Here, I’ve rendered it down into crisp little nuggets, and have used the rich rendered fat to brown the chicken and soften the vegetables in this dish. If you can’t find salt pork where you are, fatty pancetta or even fatty bacon lardons will do the job nicely. To serve four, you’ll need:

100g salt pork
4 large chicken breasts
½ teaspoon caster sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon fennel
3 bayleaves
1 teaspoon dried pimento chillies

2 red peppers
2 green peppers
1 yellow pepper
4 cloves garlic

1 banana shallot
1 medium onion
4 stalks celery
2 glasses wine
2 glasses chicken stock
500g passata
1 tablespoon tomato purée
2 tablespoons crème
Salt and pepper
Parsley to garnish

Slice the peppers into strips, and put them aside in a bowl. Put the diced shallot and onion and diced celery in another bowl with the crushed garlic. Rub the chicken breasts with the sugar, salt and pepper.

Cut the salt pork into small dice (about half a centimetre) and put in a large, heavy-based casserole dish. Cook over a low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until all the fat has rendered out and the dice of pork are tiny and golden. Turn the heat up to medium-high and brown the whole chicken breasts on all sides in the fat. When they are golden all over, remove them to a plate with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat back down to medium-low.

Add the paprika, bay leaves, crushed chillies and fennel seeds to the pan with the shallots, onion, celery and garlic. Sauté in the remaining fat (adding a little olive oil if you think it’s necessary) for about five minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the peppers to the pan and cook for another five minutes, keeping everything on the move, then return the chicken to the pan along with any juices, stirring well so the paprika mixture coats everything.

Add the wine to the dish, and let it bubble up to a simmer. Pour in the stock and passata and stir a tablespoon of concentrated tomato purée through the mixture. Put the lid on and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Stir through the crème fraîche just before serving, and garnish with parsley.

I served this with sautéed potatoes. It’s also great with buttered rice and a salad.

16 Replies to “Basque chicken”

  1. That’s funny, I was going to make a spanishy chicken thing tonight, now i definitely will, passing by the polski sklep on the way home too. would be rude not to 😉

  2. I was really pleased to find enormous great bushels of fresh dill in the Newmarket one as well – for less money than a sad supermarket pack that barely fills the palm of your hand, and some utterly faboo baked ham tasting of garlic. Hooray Polish delis.

  3. Hi Deepa! The Newmarket one is next to the car park where the Saturday market is held, just off Noel Murless Drive. If Cambridge is more convenient for you, there’s a shop called something like Continental Foods (off the top of my head – that may not be exactly right, but the word Continental is in there somewhere) on Chesterton Road, up towards the Elizabeth Way end. How’s that for service? 🙂

  4. Herm. Oh dear. This seems to be another of those words-with-2+-meanings. In this case, I was using it to mean hot chillies – quite honestly, though, it’s up to you. If you prefer something spicy, go for a hotter chilli; if sweet, then go for the poblano-type.

  5. I found what you said about salt pork kinda of funny. Salt pork is everywhere here in the US, but ironically one thing that is hard to come by is pork belly. (Which I learned you can even get at ASDA in the UK) Shall we exchange fatty pork products?

  6. English food shopping drives me mad, Mark. Happily, I’ve a month in the US coming up, where I intend to eat all the salt pork I can fit into my gaping maw.

  7. Liz Hi…first time here….m a little worried about something..I was googling on DocChuck, n stumbled upon ur site..tht creep is commenting on my blog too…need ur help/advice on wht course of action to take…m new on blogosphere,,plz HELP!

    N.B. I will come back here to see ur reply…so reply on ur blog post…n m too scared to give out my id/url…but trust me I will get back to u, once u reply…

    m soooo upset. 🙁

  8. Hi Anon – if I were you, I’d step back a bit – Doc Chuck isn’t really all that threatening or frightening (to be honest, I really rather enjoy the back and forth), just somewhat…different. Remember it’s the Internet, and not real life; your blog’s not your home, and as long as you keep that at the front of your mind, nothing that happens there can harm you.

  9. Thanks a tonne Liz…he hasn’t responded again…and I guess its the first of a kind for me.. (as am just 3 months old on the blogosphere)…so was a little taken aback…

    BTW love the Calas…m so going to make it .

    Hugs and Thanks again,

  10. I too advise everyone to try out the cherry juice from the Polish shop. Fantastic stuff. Im sure theres some sour cherry sorbet to be made from it…..

    We have a few round here, and a very unusual polish cu middle eastern deli. I bought flat bread, sumac and cherry juice all in one outing!!!

  11. Hi Kevin! Since writing this, I’ve also discovered that Polish bottled horseradish is about 100 times hotter and more fragrant than the English variety, and have been snuffling my way through jars of the stuff. Yay Polski sklep.

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