Eric Akis: B.C. ciders great for cooking as well as sipping

Eric Akis

When I think about cider, autumn first comes to mind — the time of year apples are processed and turned into that wonderful drink that comes in a range of palate-pleasing styles.

Alcoholic cider is available year round, of course, and to tastily remind us of that the Northwest Cider Association, in conjunction with B.C. Cider producers, is holding the fourth-annual B.C. Cider Week. It’s actually nine days of tastings and events that began on Saturday and continue until May 6.

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Cider Week events are posted on the NWCA website, nwcider.com, and will occur in places such as Vancouver and Kelowna.

Events are also being held on Vancouver Island, such as the Cider Social, which takes place on May 5, from 2 to 5 p.m., at Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse (seacider.ca) in Saanichton, 2487 Mount St. Michael Rd.

At the Cider Social, cideries from across the Pacific Northwest and beyond will sample their products. Food will also be available to nibble on while you sip. Tickets are $20 per person, plus taxes, includes six tasting samples and can be purchased online at cidersocial2018.brownpapertickets.com. Additional drink and food tickets can be purchased on site for $2 per serving.

Another event occurring during B.C. Cider Week, also on May 5, is the Cinco de Mayo Brunch and Jalisco Release, which takes place at Merridale Cidery & Distillery in Cobble Hill, 1230 Merridale Rd.

That event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will celebrate Cinco de Mayo as well as the release of Merridale’s seasonal, lime-infused cider, Jalisco Cidre. Merridale will also be serving an à la carte brunch menu along with Mexican-themed specials. For more information, go to merridale.ca and click on events.

Both businesses also have tasting rooms where you can sample their products year round. Go to their websites noted above for more information. You can learn which Island liquor stores sell their ciders.

All this talk about cider reminded me that beyond sipping it, like wine, it’s also a great ingredient to cook with. To prove that, I have deliciously flavoured a braised and roasted chicken with Sea Cider Pippins, a strong and robust “sharp”-style cider.

I also created a simple dessert by lacing rhubarb compote with Sea Cider Bramble Bubbly, a cider flavoured with blackberries. I then used that compote as a colourful, sweet and tangy topping for ice cream, creating a splendid way to end a meal.

Braised and Roasted Chicken with Cider, Thyme and Vegetables

This preparation is similar to making a pot roast, except the roast — in this case, a whole chicken — is uncovered for the last half of cooking. The end result is an ultra moist and juicy chicken with a golden colour and a fine flavour, thanks to the cider used for braising and basting.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About one hour, 40 minutes

Makes: Four servings

1 (3 1/2 lb./1.6 kg) chicken

4 medium shallots, peeled, and then halved lengthwise

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut

1- to 2-inch chunks

2 medium celery ribs, peeled and cut 1- to 2-inch chunks

6 sprigs fresh thyme, each cut in half

2 1/4 cups off-dry or dry cider (I used Sea Cider Pippins)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tsp water

1/4 cup sour cream

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Put the chicken in a large ovenproof skillet (mine was 12 inches wide) or shallow roasting pan. Tie the chicken’s legs together and fold and tuck the wings under its body. Surround the chicken with the shallots, carrots, celery and thyme. Pour the cider over the chicken. Season the chicken and vegetables with salt and pepper.

Cover the chicken with aluminum foil roast in the middle of the oven 45 minutes. Uncover the chicken, baste with the liquid in the pan and roast for 30 minutes more. Baste chicken again and then roast 15 minutes more, or until golden and fully cooked (see Note).

Set the bird on a plate, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes (see Eric’s options).

While the chicken rests, set a sieve over a medium pot. Pour the liquid and vegetables in the pan the chicken was cooked into the sieve. Once vegetables have drained, set them in heatproof dish and keep them warm in a 200 F oven.

Set the pot with the liquid in it over medium, medium-high heat. Mix in cornstarch/water mixture and bring to a simmer. Simmer one minute. Now whisk in the sour cream and mustard and heat them through a minute or two (don’t rapidly boil). Season the sauce with salt and pepper, and then transfer to a small sauceboat.

When rested, carve the chicken into portions and set on a platter. Serve with the vegetables and sauce.

Note: When chicken is fully cooked, an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the thigh, not touching the bone, should register 170 F.

Eric’s options: If you don’t wish to serve the chicken with the rich sauce flavoured with mustard and sour cream, once the bird is cooked and carved, simply serve it with the pan juices and the vegetables.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Rhubarb Cider Compote

This simple, but divine dessert sees fine quality vanilla ice cream topped with a sweet and tangy, cider-spiked rhubarb compote.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About eight minutes

Makes: Four servings

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp berry-flavoured cider (I used Sea Cider Bramble Bubbly)

1/4 cup granulated sugar (see Eric’s options)

2 tsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

• pinch salt and ground cinnamon

2 cups fresh rhubarb, diced in 1/2-inch cubes (about three medium pieces of rhubarb)

8 to 12 small scoops B.C. made vanilla ice cream (see Note)

4 mint sprigs

Place cider, sugar, cornstarch, ginger, vanilla, salt and cinnamon in a small pot and whisk until smooth. Set pot over medium heat, bring to a simmer and cook one minute. Now mix in the rhubarb (the mixture will be very thick, but will loosen once the rhubarb begins to cook).

Return to a simmer and very gently cook the rhubarb until just tender, but still holding its shape, about five minutes. Remove compote from the heat, transfer to heatproof bowl or jar and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate compote until ready to serve.

When ready serve, set two or three scoops of ice cream in each of four chilled, decorative bowls. Top the ice cream with a generous amount of the compote, garnish with mint sprigs, and serve.

Note: Made-in-B.C. vanilla ice creams you could use in this recipe include ones made by Cold Comfort (coldcomfort.ca), and Betterwith 100 per cent Ice Cream (betterwith.com).

Eric’s options: The compote is fairly tangy. If you prefer a sweeter taste, add a teaspoon or two more sugar.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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