This dish lends itself to didacticism. One could easily preach on the transformative power of simple ingredients, the deceptive nature of appearances, the unimpeachable wisdom of Marcella Hazan, the tragic neglect of red cabbage…
But I’d rather celebrate this chicken on hedonistic terms. Because, it’s so tasty—one of those perfect Italian inventions that combines a few humble ingredients (chicken, cabbage, onion, red wine) to profoundly pleasurable effect.
Sliced red cabbage and onion cook down until rich and caramelized—a delicious, sweet-sour nest for the braising chicken. Yes, the meat acquires a slightly off-putting purple hue—but once you see how well it's absorbed those wine-infused juices, you’ll quickly forgive the inelegance. Death by cabbage smothering isn’t such a bad way to go.
Chicken Fricassee With Red Cabbage
Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan
1 cup yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
4 cups red cabbage, shredded fine (about 1 pound)
one 3-4 pound chicken, cleaned and cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup dry red wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the sliced onion, the 1/4 cup olive oil, and the garlic in a sauté pan. Turn the heat on to medium, and cook the garlic until it turns a deep gold color. Add the cabbage, sprinkle with salt, and stir thoroughly until well coated. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Cook cabbage for about 40 minutes, turning occasionally, until it becomes tender and has reduced. [The dish can be prepared up to this point even 2 or 3 days in advance. Reheat completely in a covered pan before proceeding to the next step.]
In a separate pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Once oil is heated add chicken skin-side down. Brown on both sides, then transfer the pieces, except for the breasts, to the cabbage pan. Turn the chicken over in the cabbage, add the wine and a few grindings of pepper. Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly askew, and continue cooking at a slow simmer. Turn the chicken occasionally, sprinkling once more with salt. After 40 minutes add the breasts. Cook for about 15 minutes more until the chicken is tender and the meat comes easily off the bone. Transfer everything to a warm platter and serve immediately.