chicken and spatzel with white wine and creme fraiche

This recipe is adapted from a book called Recipes from the French Wine Harvest by Rosi Hanson.  The book tours through all the major wine regions in France and features large scale family-style recipes the wine makers serve their staff and themselves – think hearty stews, soups, pates, rustic tarts, etc.  French cooking, but un-fussy.  The book, originally published in 1996, found its way into my lap via Seth, the chef at Vee Vee.  He picked it up in a second hand book store in Somerville a few years ago, but I see there are a few copies available on amazon.

Perhaps more fantastic than the book’s narrative on French wine culture is its photos of nineties fashion.  It would appear that even the French weren’t able to escape neon prints and waffle sweaters.  The photos are priceless; picture a woman grilling duck breasts on an open fire, French countryside cascading behind, wearing over-sized fashion sunglasses.  Fashion aside, this is one of those books where absolutely everything looks like exactly what I want to eat right now.  The new Bon Appetit just landed in my mail box yesterday, this issue devoted entirely to comfort foods, so it would seem there’s something in the air (wind chill, anyone?) that’s got us all in hibernation gear.  Ok, ok, save for the 3 glorious 50 degree days we got this week which found me barefoot drinking sangria and eating arepas, convincing myself that winter is done and gone. 

Just in case Because we have more cold weather yet to come, it’s good to have a recipe like this in your pocket.  It’s taken from the Alsace section of the book, the French wine region directly next to Germany.  The original title is “Coq au Riesling with Spatzel” – essentially chicken simmered in delectable gravy of white wine and shallots, with a little crème fraiche mixed in at the end.  Chicken and dumplings gone to heaven, or Alsace as the case may be, the photos above (complete with frozen peas) just don’t do it justice. 

Spatzel are a traditional small German dumpling that seems to have become popular in bistro-style restaurants lately.  They’re made by passing a thin pasta dough through either a spatzel maker or a flat-bottomed colander with large holes.  Like any dumpling, the magic comes by then dousing them liberally in gravy, pan-juice, buttery-drippings, or the like.  We actually liked the dish better the second time around, when we warmed the spatzel, the chicken, and lots of sauce together on the stove, letting the spatzel soak up all that delicious juice.  Serves 4 to 6 generously. 

If making spatzel sounds a little daunting, you could certainly serve this dish with rice, orzo, egg noodles, or mashed potatoes. 

For the Spatzel

  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 lb (3 cups) all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp semolina flour
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) warm water

Beat the eggs, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Slowly (1/2 cup at a time) whisk in the all purpose and semolina flour.  The mixture will be quite thick and lumpy.  Add the water and whisk smooth.  Set the dough aside at room temperature to rest for 1 hour.

When ready to cook: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Set your spatzel maker or colander over the water and, working in batches, press the batter through the holes into the boiling water.  If using a colander, it helps to have a wide metal spatula or bench knife.  If using a spatzel maker, slide the cup portion back and forth over the base.  Spatzel cook quickly – once they float, boil an additional 2-3 minutes and then remove to a casserole dish with a slotted spoon.  Repeat with the remaining batter.

The spatzel can either be served immediately or kept warm in a 200 degree oven (cover them and add a splash of the cooking water for moisture.)  Alternatively, the spatzel can be made ahead and re-warmed in a skillet with 2 tbsp of butter or some of the chicken sauce. 

For the Chicken with White Wine and Crème Fraiche

  • 1 medium chicken, jointed* or the equivalent in chicken pieces (2 legs, thighs, and breasts, all bone on)
  • 2oz (4 tbsp) butter
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 4 medium shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 glass marsala
  • 15 oz/500 ml white wine (Riesling if you are feeling authentic.)  This is ¾ of a bottle, which leaves you one glass to enjoy while cooking!
  • Spring of parsley
  • Sprig of thyme
  • One bay leaf
  • Salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 8oz tub crème fraiche
  • Chopped parsley or chives for garnish

*Smitten Kitchen linked to this Gourmet Test Kitchen video a few weeks ago, which shows you step-by-step how to break down a chicken.  Save any scraps to make stock.

Warm the butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet.  Lightly salt the chicken pieces and add them to the skillet skin side down.  Cook over medium-high heat until nicely browned.  Resist the urge to move the chicken too much.  Let it get richly browned then flip the pieces and brown the other side.  Remove the chicken from the pan to a plate.  Add the shallots and garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant, 2-3 minutes.  Add the marsala and stir to release all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the wine and herbs and return the chicken to the pan.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

At this point, remove the chicken from the pan again.  Taste your sauce – you may want to reduce it a bit to concentrate the flavors.  If so, increase the heat and reduce for 5 to 10 minutes.  Taste again and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Remove the herbs and add the crème fraiche.  You may also want to thicken the sauce a bit with 2 tbsp flour dissolved in a little water.  (I found the sauce a little thin without thickening.)  Return the chicken to the sauce and serve over the spatzel garnished with fresh chopped parsley or chives.     


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