For my second post of the year, my husband suggested a New York Times recipe that had caught his eye and was made more appealing since we had all of the ingredients on hand: James Beard’s Farmer’s Chicken. The recipe first appeared in a feature story on James Beard by Julia Moskin that was occasioned by the publication in 2020 of a Beard biography The Man Who Ate Too Much, by John Birdsall.
Moskin attributes the recipe to a son of a member of Beard’s circle, chef Andrew Zimmern, who told her about his childhood experiences in Beard’s kitchen and “encountering tastes there for the first time, like a braise of chicken with olives, almonds and raisins, a dish with roots in Spain and California that Beard made often.” Beard claimed to have “adapted the recipe from Spanish immigrants who worked on ranches in California.”
However, having gleaned from Birdsall’s book a better understanding of Beard’s showmanship, I have to question the chef’s attribution of his dish to migrant farmers. The recipe’s bend of ingredients, currants, almonds, olives, paprika, seem more Moroccan to me; and after preparing the dish, I found the flavors quite similar to those of a tajin.
And while the dish may well have been influenced by Beard’s global palate, the recipe as it appears in The Times is more detailed than any I can recall from reading several of Beard’s cookbooks.
Despite these reservations, I am glad to have made this dish and shall definitely add it to my repertory.
I pretty much followed the recipe as printed, but made several changes. The major modification was substituting smoked paprika for the sweet variety since I thought it would balance the sweetness from the currants, raisins, and red pepper. Next, since I didn’t have enough Castelvetrano olives on hand, I replaced them with Cerignolas. Finally, both for flavor and color, I added butter to the olive oil used for browning the chicken.
The original recipe’s cooking times also needed some adjustments: the browning took closer to 15 minutes than the listed 5; and the uncovered reduction required almost 30 minutes as opposed to the recipe’s 15.
The final dish, which I served with couscous, was delicious. The meat was juicy and tender, almost falling off the bone. The counterpoint of smoke from the paprika and sweetness from the currants and red pepper made for a rich sauce the flavors of which lingered on the palate. The final addition of lemon zest and juice right before serving added brightness to the dish, while the final addition of toasted almonds delivered a pleasant crunch.
To keep the focus on the flavors of the dish, I. chose to serve it accompanied by a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
James Beard’s Farmer’s Chicken Adapted from a Recipe by Julia Moskin in the New York Times.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
For the Stew
3½ to 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (or a combination of thighs and drumsticks)
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon smoked paprika, or pimenton
1 cup dry white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc.)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup mild green olives, such as manzanilla or Castelvetrano, pitted (I used Cerignola.)
½ cup dried currants or raisins
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon juice
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
½ cup toasted sliced almonds (optional)
Cooked rice or orzo, or garlic-rubbed toast (I used couscous.)
1. Pat chicken pieces with paper towels to dry well and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. In a wide skillet with a lid, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pan, brown the chicken, rotating as needed, until the skin is golden and releases easily from the pan, at least 6 to 7 minutes per side. Adjust the heat to avoid scorching. As the pieces are browned, transfer them to a plate.
3. Once all the chicken is browned, reduce the flame, and add the onion and bell pepper to the skillet. Sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano and paprika.
4. Add the wine, raise the flame slightly, and cook, stirring up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the pan is almost dry, about 15 minutes.
5. Stir in stock, olives, and currants, and bring to a simmer. Carefully return the chicken pieces to the pan, turning in the sauce to coat, and leave skin side up. Cover and let simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
6. Remove the lid, raise the flame slightly, stir, and let simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is tender and the liquid reduces slightly, about 25 to 30 minutes. (The sauce will still be a little loose.) Taste the sauce for salt and pepper.
7. When ready to serve, heat through and stir in lemon zest and juice. Divide among shallow bowls and sprinkle with parsley and almonds (if using). Serve with rice, orzo or toast. I opted for couscous to keep the Moroccan theme.