Here’s a recipe that will whisk you away to Old World Italy. Its star ingredient is an underappreciated spirit that is making a comeback in modern society, grappa. The recipe, Roast Chicken with Grappa, is warm, rich and full of Italian goodness, but first we need to learn a bit about the grappa that makes it unique.
Grappa is deeply Italian. In fact, “since 1989 the name has been protected by the EU, meaning that the drink can only be called grappa if it’s sourced and produced in Italy.” Grappa is made from pomace, which comes from the grape seeds, skins and stalks leftover after making wine. The general agreement is that grappa is at least 1,500 years old, but there is no way to tell when it was really invented because it was most likely created by peasants who were busy surviving and didn’t have time to record their recipes for posterity. There are several theories as to its origin:
- Some historians attribute the distillation skills to the Burgundians in the 5th century.
- Other historians say it must have come out of the distillation techniques of the Friulians (natives of Friuli in Northern Italy) even before the 5th century.
- Another group insists it was born out of Arab-occupied Sicily in the 9th century.
For generations, grappa was made by individual families, who typically consumed the spirit after dinner. Since people mostly worked outside, they would also drink it to keep warm. It was frequently used medicinally as an anaesthetic, disinfectant and even to treat intestinal worms. Things changed when factories arrived and then offices, taking people out of the cold fields. And of course, modern medicine did away with the need for grappa as a medicine. Eventually, grappa became unnecessary and then unfashionable.
Today, the drink is making a comeback. Modern grappa is smoother and tastier than its ancient predecessor. Trendy grappas are made in a variety of flavors, infused with ingredients such as milk and lemon and aged in different types of barrels to achieve a myriad of subtle differences. It’s a cocktail ingredient and can likewise be used in recipes ranging from entrees to desserts.
So don’t miss out on this emerging trend! Try your hand at some Roast Chicken with Grappa and you’ll feel as if you’re dining in a courtyard in old Italy, the breezes wafting and friends and family raising a glass-and forkful-to an ancient tradition.
Roast Chicken with Grappa
*Recipe courtesy of www.bbcgoodfood.com
- A little less than ½ cup of plain flour
- 2 good pinches of saffron strands, crushed in a pestle and mortar
- 6 chicken breasts, with bone and skin on
- 6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 large sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds and 5 ounces, peeled and cut into large chunks
- ¼ pint full-fat milk
- A little more than ½ cup of taleggio cheese, broken into chunks
- 8 tablespoons of grappa (Italian brandy) *can substitute white wine
- 4 handfuls of seedless red grapes
- Heat oven to 200 degrees C. Put the flour in a large bowl with the saffron and some seasoning. Coat the chicken breasts in the flour mix, then shake gently to remove any excess.
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy roasting tin, then quickly brown the chicken all over. Cover the tin with foil, then roast for about 20 minutes until the chicken is crispy and golden, then removing the foil for the final five minutes of cooking time.
- Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in a large pan for about 15 minutes or until tender, drain well, return to the pan, then mash. Place the pan back over a low heat, season, then mix in the milk and taleggio. Stir constantly, allowing the cheese to melt gently and create a smooth, creamy texture.
- When the chicken is cooked, put the tray back on the hob and add the grappa and grapes. Warm through, then remove from the heat and flambé by lighting with a taper. When the flames die down, return to the heat and simmer for about 30 seconds.
- To serve, place 3-4 tablespoons mash in the middle of each plate and sit a chicken breast on top, then spoon over the grapes and juice.
 Mitzman, D. (n.d.). A new lease of life for Italy’s aqua vitae? – BBC News. Retrieved May 29, 2015.