ABOUT THAT BASQUE CHICKEN
Dale and I were invited over to Carl and Pam Taylor's house for dinner a few years ago.
"Basque chicken," was the reply when I asked Carl for some guidance in selecting the evening's wine. "Some peppers and tomatoes and garlic and onions and Spanish ham" were the only clue Carl gave me about the dish awaiting us.
At dinner that night, Carl's spicy, tomatoey sauce had some heat to it, reinforced by the Serrano ham, smoky chorizo and red pepper flakes. I had decided to bring a modest Spanish Garnacha, a Grenache made in a friendly style with a civilized alcohol level, yet sacrificing none of its much needed fruit-forward flavors.
After soaking up the wine's delightful cherry aromas and experiencing the sheer joy of its compatible contrast, Carl exclaimed, "this is the perfect wine for this dish!" And to make a successful situation even happier, the wine cost only eight dollars a bottle! An eight hundred dollar Chateau Margaux would've been reduced to the flavor of runny mud with this spicy meal.
And yet we have customers shopping at our store who think an eight dollar wine is beneath them. Which leads me to another truism: money doesn't buy good taste.
I've found that there is a time and a place for nearly every type of wine made.
Carl Taylor's Basque Chicken
Not so much a recipe as a roadmap, this is how I currently make this standard—mostly because it is the simplest and most straightforward.—C.T.
8 chicken thighs, cut in half (the marrow will seep into the sauce)
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup Serrano ham, diced
2-3 Chorizo de Bilbao, sliced
Large onion, diced
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp Spanish paprika
Red pepper flakes
1-3 tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper the chicken and dust with flour. Sauté in olive oil until lightly browned. Add the ham and the chorizo to the chicken. After the chorizo has browned, remove the chicken, ham and chorizo from the pan—you may want to remove a bit of the oil and accumulated chicken fat.
Add the red bell peppers to the pan and cook over fairly high heat until wilted, if the peppers singe a bit that's good. Reduce the heat and add the onions to the pan and sauté until almost limp, then add the garlic, red pepper flakes to taste and the paprika. When the garlic is fragrant but before it colors, add the tomatoes and the reserved chicken. Simmer about 25-30 minutes watching the liquid level. If necessary add some water or a splash of whatever you are drinking. You will want a thick but generous sauce to accompany some plain steamed rice.
Note: If you can't get Chorizo de Bilbao (the Spanish sausage used in paella, etc.) substitute a spicy Italian or Polish sausage. Likewise, proscuitto or ham can be used instead of Serrano ham.