WND – Suspension of Disbelief

May 20, 2010

I ran across a recipe for leek bread pudding last week and was on fire to make it for Dinner. I spent a while trolling for braised chicken recipes on the theory that I didn’t want anything else that would need to bake in the oven at the same time as the bread pudding, and didn’t feel like pan frying chicken again since I did that last week. I wound up with a recipe that didn’t go with bread pudding at all so I nixed the leek bread pudding for Dinner, and made it for us on Tuesday night (verdict – disappointing, don’t need to make it again). What sold me on the Braised Chicken in Aromatic Tomato Sauce was one of the reviews which described the ingredient list as ‘reading like the contents of a medieval lord’s pantry’. Even as I nodded in agreement at the cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and allspice, I thought well except for those pesky new world tomatoes*.

Everyone has a different bar for their suspension of disbelief. Mine is set regrettably high. This is what happens when you grow up in a family for whom the wars of Spanish succession are standard dinner table conversation, and ending the meal with three reference books on the table is not unusual**. On the upside I can extemporize on the dynastic progression of the Tudors and why Mary Queen of Scots thought she had a claim to the throne at will, and on the downside it means that sometimes I have difficulty watching movies.

For example some people – by which I mean me – have serious problems suspending disbelief when it comes to the Clive Owen King Arthur movie because they specifically tell us that the movie is set in 467 AD, but also want to claim that Arthur studied with Pelagius in Rome. Now, for the 99.9% of the world who could (a) give a damn and (b) have never heard of Pelagius this is the least of the movie’s problems (like, for example, the idea that Rome gave a hoot about Britain nearly 60 years after they officially retreated and abandoned England to its own devices). For me and the five other geeks who both know who Pelagius is and went to go see the movie this is problematic because Pelagius fled Rome in about 410 AD for Carthage, and probably died around 420 AD somewhere in Palestine making it somewhat impossible for him to have mentored a young Arthur in Rome in the 430s, and really hard for him to have been murdered in Rome in the 460s (which, according to the movie, is what pushed Arthur over the edge and caused him to abandon the ideal of Rome and side with the British – don’t ask, it didn’t even make sense in the movie).

On the other end of the Arthurian scale is the new BBC series, Merlin, a show so cheesy it comes with its own fondu set. Now arguably you can set a King Arthur story pretty much whenever you’d like to set it because any actual history that might be involved is 5th C at best, but all the stories got written in the 12th C so the notions of chivalry and courtly romance that we associate with Arthur and the knights of the Round Table are anachronistic to any gesture at a historical King Arthur. The BBC has flung it all to the winds however and set it in ‘historical’ ‘Britain’. This means that they have license to invent whole mountain ranges in the middle of Britain, engage in color blind casting, have a curiously under populated and suspiciously clean Camelot, and throw rotten tomatoes at people in the stocks.

Some people can’t get past the clean Camelot, or the notion that Morgana thinks she’s going to have some kind of say in who she marries. Some people balk at the concept of tomatoes in ‘medieval’ England. Some people get stuck on the use of forks, or the prevalence of handshaking. Everyone’s got their own limit of disbelief. Personally Merlin doesn’t bother me, possibly because I’ve already watched the BBC version of Robin Hood where they all ran around the forest in henleys and Maid Marion frequently rode around her demesne in culottes, so if Morgana wants to wear a shoulderless besequined dress I just shrug and comment on how pretty her hair is. On the other hand, I’ve read reviews of the new Russell Crowe Robin Hood and on careful consideration think that this is a movie I should probably only see in the privacy of my own house, possibly with several glasses of wine.

Anachronistic tomatoes notwithstanding, this braised chicken is something like what I imagine a medieval ruler of Corfu sitting down to eat for dinner. Spices from eastern trade routes, the rich sauce soaking into a trencher, fall apart tender chicken being speared with table knives . . . except for the fact that what we now think of as a staple of Mediterranean cuisine wasn’t introduced until mid-16th C. Even if Roger II of Sicily wasn’t eating this when he stopped by to defend Corfu, I can picture the Turkish fleet pausing after a hard afternoon’s conquering to fill their bellies with something similar, they possibly even used forks to do it.

* In all fairness to the reviewer, she actually noted this when she commented about the medieval lord’s spice rack. My eye just skipped over it when I read it the first time.

* Usually, the World Book Encyclopedia the Winkler Prins (because my father doesn’t trust any reference book written after 1954 and not written in Dutch short hand – I’m pretty sure he’s appalled by the fact that I don’t even own a dictionary much less an encyclopedia of any number of volumes because I think that’s what a wireless internet connection and google is for) and probably a Dutch-English dictionary because see comments about written in English and Dutch short hand from the 1950s that even my father has difficulty translating.

Braised Chicken in Aromatic Tomato Sauce
Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower

Braised Chicken in Aromatic Tomato Sauce

1 Tbsp olive oil
8 pieces of chicken (I recommend bone-in thighs)
3 cups chopped red onions
6 whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, drained, juices reserved, tomatoes chopped
½ cup water

2 Tbsp (or more) red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp tomato paste
Pinch of sugar

Trim excess fat from the chicken. Pat dry, and season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in heavy large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken in batches and cook until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Place chicken on platter.

Drain all but 1 Tbsp of fat from pan. Add onions to Dutch oven; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add spices; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and their juices and water.

Return chicken to Dutch oven. Cover; simmer over medium-low heat until chicken is very tender, about 35 minutes.

Transfer chicken to platter. Tent with foil. Add 2 Tbsp vinegar, tomato paste and sugar to Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until thickened to sauce consistency, stirring occasionally. The recipe says this will take 10 minutes, either they’re lying or I like my sauce a lot thicker than they do because I boiled vigorously for 45 minutes before the sauce reduced enough for my tastes.

If you want to make this in advance (and I think all stews get better if they sit over night) stop after you have cooked the chicken, but before you reduce the sauce. Cool and refrigerate up to 2 days. The night you serve the stew remove the chicken, bring the sauce to a boil and reduce to desired consistency as above. Return the chicken to the pot and simmer until chicken is heated through (about 30 minutes).

Serve either over pasta, or with crusty bread and butter.

Also, if you have leftover sauce freeze it for a quick, yet decadent tasting, spaghetti sauce in the future.

Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower

Recipe previously given: And the Moral of the Story is . . .



  1. yes, but when you do finally watch robin hood in the privacy of your own home, i think the rest of us want to be there to witness it. 😀

  2. […] a variety of sources. It owes something a duck ragu recipe I came across. It owes something to the Chicken with Aromatic Tomato Sauce that I have made before. And, it owes something to a braised rabbit recipe I stared at longingly, […]

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