Roasted chicken with cider baked apples and celery root purée
I usually associate baked apples with dessert: firm Braeburn, Honeycrisp, Macintosh or Winesap apples, slowly baked until soft, their skins barely containing the inside flesh. Apple cider is the basting medium, complemented by the flavors and textures of the dried fruit it plumps. Childhood food memories might include apples stuffed with gingersnaps, or served with vanilla bean ice cream. But baked apples and the reduced apple cider in which they cook are an excellent savory accompaniment to roasted chicken, pork or sausages.
Celery root, also known as celeriac, is a root vegetable that appears in the autumn months. It can be intimidating, with its rough outer layer, gnarly roots and hard interior, but its mild flavor and the fact that it's not starchy, like potatoes, make celery root a delicious, versatile vegetable for the fall and winter. Cube and roast it at high heat, grate or julienne it to make a salad like celery remoulade, or turn it into a silky smooth puree with hints of lemon, butter and a touch of nutmeg.
Choose chicken--and all proteins--carefully. Find a butcher, market or good quality grocery store that sells birds from small local farms or can tell you where they are raised. Organically raised, pastured or vegetarian fed chickens that don't contain antibiotics are the best option, if you can find them.
makes 4 servings
4 chicken breasts, skin on, preferably with breastbone and wing attached
8 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 firm baking apples such as Gravenstein, Liberty, Braeburn or Honeycrisp
1 medium-sized celery root
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup golden raisins
6-8 fresh sage leaves
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (a few swipes on a microplane)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Place the chicken breasts on a large plate. Rub with the thyme leaves, season with salt and set the plate aside while you begin to prepare the apples and celery root.
Cut the apples in half, leaving the skins on (see photo), and remove the core and seeds with a melon baller. Put the apple halves in an ovenproof pan with the cider, raisins and sage leaves, and season lightly with salt. Bring the apples and cider to a simmer over medium heat, remove the pan from the burner and finish cooking the apples in the oven, using a spoon to baste them periodically with the cider and raisins from the bottom of the pan. Bake about 45 minutes or until the apple flesh is soft and beginning to collapse.
Meanwhile, prepare the celery root. Removing the gnarly skin from a celery root isn’t as easy as peeling an apple, and it definitely creates more loss. Do the best you can using a small sharp paring knife to cut away the skin and expose the white inside. Slice the peeled celery root into 1-inch thick slabs, then cut each slice into 1-inch pieces. Put the pieces in a pot, cover them with cold water by at least 1-inch and generously salt the water. Bring the contents of the pot to simmer over high heat, reduce the heat and gently cook for about 30 minutes, or until the celery root chunks are soft. Remove some of the cooking water from the pot and drain the celery root.
While the celery root is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan until it is almost smoking. Place the chicken breasts in the pan, skin side down. Remove the apples from the oven and set them aside to cool before putting the pan of chicken in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is just set and a thermometer registers 180 F degrees.
After allowing the celery root to cool very slightly, put it into a food processor or blender with a small amount of the cooking water. Because it isn’t starchy like potatoes, celery root won’t get sticky or gluey if it is over mixed. Pay close attention as you add the water, watching for the puree to change from thick to slightly thinner. You’re looking for a consistency that’s thick and creamy, with a little bit of body and stiffness, so that it holds its shape on a plate. Add the juice of the half lemon, 1 tablespoon of the butter and desired amount of nutmeg. Place the puree back in the pan for reheating.
When the chicken is out of the oven, let it rest in the pan. Slowly reheat the celery root puree and the baked apples with cider. The cider will have reduced enough that it is slightly syrupy. Once the cider syrup is hot, add the remaining butter and swirl it in to create a sauce-like consistency.
To serve, spoon some celery root puree onto each plate, place a piece of chicken on top, and arranging two apple halves on the side. Drizzle the cider sauce and raisins over the top and serve immediately.