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French Chicken Normandy Casserole

Apples, brandy, and cider — oh my!

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My very favorite kind of food in all the world is French food. Not the carefully coiffed sophisticated stuff you might find in a Michelin star restaurant, but rather, the rustic and humble dishes that showcase a region’s best ingredients in ways that are usually economical and always delicious. One such example is this Chicken Normandy. France is Normandy’s apple region and here they’re combined with chicken and cider (another Normandy treat) in a bake that’s easy enough for a midweek meal but impressive enough to serve company.

It’s maybe a stretch to call this a “casserole” since there’s no starch like potatoes or rice or pasta to go with the chicken. It’s really more of a braise, but semantics aside, it’s delicious, and that’s what we’re really after. This uses bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs because they hold up better to braising and, well, skin and bones bring the flavor when it comes to chicken. If you’d rather, you can absolutely cut up a whole chicken and use that to have some variety with dark and white meat.

Start by seasoning the chicken well and searing it in butter. You don’t need to cook it through, but you do want the skin to get crispy and get some nice color on it (and in the bottom of the pan — more flavor for later!). Once the chicken is browned, remove it from the pan and add in some sliced leeks to soften up. If you haven’t used leeks much before, they’re in the onion family but they have a milder, sweeter flavor than other alliums. I adore them.

Sliced apples go in next, which you just want to cook until they’ve started to soften. A crisp apple that works well for baking works beautifully here too. I would avoid something especially tart like Granny Smith, but Normandy grows 800 different apple varieties so you should have plenty of options.

After that and a little garlic, it’s time to build the sauce, which is the liquid that the chicken will simmer in. (In other words, maximum flavor.)

The sauce is built from Dijon mustard, brandy, thyme, hard cider, chicken stock, and creme fraiche — a few French classics in there! Creme fraiche means “fresh cream” and it’s very close to sour cream, but without any tang. You can substitute with sour cream if you can’t find any or you could even use a touch of heavy whipping cream in a pinch. It’s just enough to add some silkiness to the sauce without making it overtly creamy.

The chicken nestles back in and everything heads into the oven until the chicken is perfectly moist and juicy, still golden on top, and surrounded with the sweet flavor of apples and a sauce that walks the line between tangy and sweet beautifully.

Yield(s): Serves 8

10m prep time

45m cook time

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  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 3 apples, cored and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 2 cups dry hard apple cider
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup creme fraiche
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a Dutch oven or large skillet (or ovenproof casserole dish), melt butter over medium-high heat.
  3. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then brown until golden and crisp on each side. This will take around 10 minutes. (Chicken does not need to be cooked through at this point.) Remove to a plate and set aside.
  4. In the same pan, lower heat to medium, then add leeks and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
  5. Add apples and continue to cook, stirring often, 5 minutes more. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
  6. Stir in mustard, brandy, and thyme and let cook 30 seconds. Stir in cider and let simmer until liquid has reduced by about half.
  7. Stir in chicken stock and bring to a simmer once more. Let simmer again until liquid has reduced a bit. Stir in creme fraiche. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Transfer sauce to a baking dish and arrange chicken in a single layer on top. (Alternatively, nestle chicken into the Dutch oven or pot you're using and transfer to oven.) Bake, uncovered, until chicken reaches 165°F, about 25 minutes.
  9. Serve hot and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Vikalinka.