No season is more enjoyable for cooking than fall. Local fresh fruits and vegetables are still in the markets, but cooler weather makes soups, stews and braises more appealing.
Here in Minnesota, home of the Honeycrisp apple, it’s not surprising that apples stand out among the other fall fruit options as a favorite. Variations on apple pie and apple cake make regular appearances on restaurant menus and dinner tables. Applesauce and apple butter find their way into many a heat-sealed Mason jar, ready to be used throughout the winter.
Mostly, though, apples stay in the sweet lane, at least in my house. I think it’s a textural thing, but I don’t personally care for apples when sautéed, roasted or stewed. Still, I love their flavor in savory foods, so when it comes to mains and sides, I employ apples in their liquid form, as I have in these Cider-Mustard Braised Chicken Thighs.
For this dish, I season and sear the chicken thighs before sautéing sliced red onion and garlic. Whole-grain mustard is added before the skillet is deglazed with hard cider, apple juice and chicken broth and simmered until tender.
I used to think of hard-apple cider as being a sweet, sparkling, alcoholic version of apple juice, until I tried them in France and Spain, where they tend to be dry (sometimes bone-dry) and crisp. Now you can get hard cider here in the U.S. that spans the sweetness scale — which is great when it comes to cooking, as you can choose for yourself just how sweet you want or need your cider to be, depending on what you’re making.
I chose a dry cider for this simple braise, because I wanted to enhance the apple flavor by also adding apple juice, which would bring an element of sweetness to the dish. If the cider were sweet, as well, it would have made the dish too sweet for my taste.
There are more and more local hard ciders on the market every year, and you can find shelves lined with a variety of choices in most of the larger wine and beer shops in town. Many are sold in individual bottles, but you can find four-packs and six-packs, too.
Like beer, most ciders aren’t wallet busters, so go ahead and try a few to see which ones suit your taste, whether you’re cooking with it, or just enjoying it while you’re cooking.
Cider-Mustard Braised Chicken Thighs With Onions
Note: Look for hard cider that’s not too sweet for this ultimate fall dish, which also makes use of the more familiar apple cider or juice. From Meredith Deeds.
• 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lb.)
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-in. slices
• 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 tbsp. finely chopped sage
• 2 tbsp. whole-grain mustard
• 1 c. dry, hard apple cider
• 1/2 c. apple cider or juice
• 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the skillet.
Add the onion to the same skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 6 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned. Add garlic, sage and mustard and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the hard cider, apple cider or juice, and broth, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low.
Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up. Cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through (at least 165 degrees), 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm.
Raise the heat to high and cook the sauce until slightly thickened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the butter and stir until melted. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 380 Fat 23 g Sodium 490 mg
Carbohydrates 10 g Saturated fat 8 g Total sugars 6 g
Protein 30 g Cholesterol 105 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, 4 medium-fat protein, ½ fat.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.