- 1 kg red stewing pears*
- 1 vanilla pod or a tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp sugar
- dash of red wine
- 20 g potato starch
- 1 free-range (barnyard) chicken
- 1 whole onion
- 1 chopped onion
- lots of lemon balm**
- pepper and salt
- 750 peeled waxy potatoes, sliced potatoes
- 100 g lean smoked bacon in cubes
- lemon balm leaves
The farmers on the clay grounds along the big rivers in the Netherlands were far better off than those living on the sand in the Dutch provinces of Drenthe and Gelderland. The somewhat more affluent farmers there even drank wine. Every year a cask of Medoc came into my grandmother’s whitewashed cellar. On special occasions she drank it with her friends, each time lifting the veils of their hats to take a sip. That cask lasted a long time! They were Calvinists.
My grandmother didn’t wear a hat when she went to pick out a chicken in the evening in the very large coop. During the day they had run around in the orchard and farm yard, where my grandma assembled them around her rattling the feed and calling keep, keep, keep… which in Dutch is dialect for “dear chicken”. In Holland these free-range chickens were hard to come by for a long time, but nowadays they are once again for sale.
Granny Dina was a very good cook. She boiled her chicken before braising it. It is my idea to improve her recipe a bit by using a Römertopf.
- Leave the pears whole when peeling. Remove the calyx from the base, leave the stalk. Wash and place with the vanilla pod (extract) and sugar in a heavy pan with water almost to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for at least 3 hours with the lid on the pan. Add the dash of wine after 1 hour.
- Using a slotted spoon place the pears in a wide bowl with the stalks upright. Measure out half a liter of pear juice and bring to the boil. Mix the potato flour in a bowl with some cold water to a paste. Remove the boiling liquid from the heat. Add the paste while stirring. Then bring to the boil again while stirring. As soon as the moisture starts to thicken, remove the pan from the heat. Pour the sauce over the pears which will then shine beautifully. Leave to cool.
- Soak a Römertopf (clay-pot) in cold water for 15 minutes. In the meantime, cut the excess fat from the chicken and fill the interior with the peeled onion and lemon balm. Rub the chicken with salt and pepper and put it in the buttered pot. Place in the cold oven, set to 250 ° C /475 F/Gas 9.
- After 30 minutes, arrange the potato slices, mixed with some salt and pepper, around the chicken. Sprinkle the diced bacon and the chopped onion on top. Cover the pot and return to the oven for 45 minutes. Then, if necessary, remove the lid from the pot to give the dish a nice brown color in 5 -10 minutes. Total cooking time approx. 1 hour and 20 minutes.
- Garnish with lemon balm leaves and serve the chicken straight from the pot, handing the pears out separately.
* Best species: Giesser Wildeman. As far as I know not for sale in the United Kingdom. Try to find a small stewing pear, that becomes kind of red when cooked long enough. We appreciate this pear so much that my daughter who lives in England brought a young tree from home. It is growing now on English ground.
** Lemon balm is an easy herb. It walks through your garden if you do not watch it. According to the German medieval abbess Hildegard von Bingen the herb is very good for your nerves. This is still believed in the Netherlands. A nervous business man who had bought a lemon balm drink from an alternative medical provider discovered when he was halted by the police that his “medicine” was very alcoholic: 75%! He had become an addict. Natural or organic can be dangerous!