Eric Akis: Vinegary sauce gives braised bird a subtle, palate-pleasing kick

Eric Akis

When you first read the name of a recipe, you sometimes get the wrong impression of how it will taste

That happened to me when I first saw a recipe for a French dish called poulet au vinaigre, chicken in vinegar. My first thought was that the vinegar-flavoured chicken must have a sharp, almost pickled taste.

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That could be OK, I thought. But when I first tried the dish, which is also called, among other things, chicken with vinegar and chicken in vinegar sauce, I discovered that was not its flavour profile at all.

Yes, you could still tell it had vinegar in it, but the taste of that vinegar evolved during the cooking process. It went from being something that was very acidic on its own to providing a palate-pleasing backbone of flavour, not a sharp, overpowering one.

That’s partly because, as with wine, the taste of vinegar mellows when it’s cooked. It’s also diluted by the other ingredients you cook the chicken with. Those other ingredients, and cooking methods, vary from recipe to recipe, and there are many.

Mine is adapted from one created by the late, great french chef Paul Bocuse for Food and Wine Magazine ( in 2008.

In the introduction to that recipe, it says this version of chicken in vinegar sauce reflects Bocuse’s desire to lighten up classic dishes.

Two ways he did that was to add diced fresh tomatoes to it and use rice vinegar, which is lower in acidity, rather than more potent wine vinegar.

But the way he lightened up the dish the most was to use far less butter than he did in his older recipes.

For example, in his 2008 recipe, he used four tablespoons of butter, but in one I found for the dish in his book Paul Bocuse’s French Cooking, published in 1997, he added a whopping 10 tablespoons.

In adapting his recipe, I increased the time needed to brown the chicken before braising it in the vinegar/tomato mixture. I also increased the time the chicken braised on the stovetop in that mixture, from about 15 minutes to 20 to 25 minutes. That was because my locally sourced chicken was quite plump and needed the added cooking time.

I also added tarragon to my recipe, which gave the chicken another appealing flavour that married well with the butter, vinegar and tomatoes in the dish.

You can serve the chicken with boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, orzo or other side dish that will work well with the vinegar sauce. For a hint of green, serve the chicken with a steamed vegetable, such as asparagus, broccolini or green beans.

How to cut up a chicken

This is the method I used for cutting up the whole chicken used in today’s recipe. You will end up with 10 to 12 pieces of chicken.

Set the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. With kitchen shears or a very sharp knife, cut along either side of the chicken's backbone, which is directly opposite the breastbone, and remove. Save backbone for stock.

Press on the chicken to make it flat. Cut chicken in half down the middle of the breastbone.

Cut the legs and wings off the breast on each half piece of chicken. Cut each leg into drumstick and thigh pieces. Cut each breast, widthwise, in half. Leave wings whole or cut each one into drummette and wingette pieces. Pull off any excess fat and trim any loose skin on the chicken pieces and they are ready to use.

Chicken in Vinegar Sauce with Tomatoes, Tarragon and Garlic

As the chicken braises in the vinegar mixture surrounding it, the butter in it and the juices seeping from the bird mellow the flavour of the vinegar. The garlic, tarragon and fresh tomato added also provide fine flavour. When it’s cooked, you end up with a rich and sumptuous chicken dish with a subtle, but pleasing hint of vinegar.

Preparation time: 35 minutes
Cooking time: about 40 minutes
Makes: three to four servings

1 (about 3 1/4 lb) Vancouver Island chicken cut into 10 to 12 pieces (see Note 1, How to cut up a chicken and Eric’s options)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 to 4 Tbsp butter (divided)

1 Tbsp olive oil

4 large unpeeled garlic cloves

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp dried tarragon

2 medium, ripe, on-the-vine tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Pat chicken dry with paper towel, and then season with salt and pepper.

Place 2 Tbsp of the butter, oil and garlic in a large skillet or wide pot (mine was 12-inches in diameter) and set over medium, medium-high heat.

When butter is melted and foaming, add chicken pieces and brown them five minutes. Turn chicken pieces over and brown them on the other side five minutes. While chicken browns, combine vinegar and tomato paste in a bowl.

When chicken has been browned on both sides, add the vinegar mixture, tarragon and cubed tomatoes and bring to a slow simmer (the liquid should just gently bubble). Lower heat as needed to maintain that slow simmer. Cover chicken and simmer/braise on the stovetop until cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes (see Note 2).

Preheat oven to 200 F. When cooked, transfer chicken to a serving platter and keep warm in the oven. Lift garlic out of the pan and set on a cutting board.

Set the pan the chicken was cooked in back over the heat and simmer and reduce the sauce until it lightly thickens, about five minutes. Turn heat under the sauce to low.

Peel garlic cloves and squash them flat with the side of knife. Now chop and mince the garlic. Mix garlic and the remaining 1 to 2 Tbsp butter into the sauce. Taste and season sauce with salt and pepper, as needed.

Take chicken out of the oven and spoon the sauce over it. Sprinkle chicken with chopped parsley and serve.

Note 1: Vancouver Island-raised chickens are sold at local butcher shops. Some grocery stores also sell those processed by Island Farmhouse Poultry (

Note 2: To tell if the chicken is done, pierce one of the thighs with the tip of a paring knife near the bone. If the juices running out are clear, the chicken is cooked. If there’s a pinkish hue, though, cook the chicken a few minutes longer.

Eric’s options: If you don't wish to cut up your own chicken, you could use five chicken drumsticks and five chicken thighs in this recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Times Colonist Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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