Vinegar Chicken with Rosemary. Photo: Katy Sosnak
Vinegar chicken with rosemary and garlic. All photos: Katy Sosnak

By Katy Sosnak

This past summer, while having dinner with a friend and her parents, we started talking about the dishes that we would always ask our mothers to make when we were home visiting. For my friend, the answer came quite easily: spaghetti and meatballs. When it was my turn, however, I had to stop and think.

It’s not that my mother doesn’t have a “signature” dish or that I haven’t asked her to make various things over the years. It’s more that my tastes are always changing. High school was all about broccoli and cheese casseroles and mashed potatoes. When I came home from college with what I considered to be a more refined palate, I would ask for her Italian wedding soup or risotto.

After taking too long to respond to what was ultimately a very simple question, I said that my mother makes this wonderful chicken with vinegar, rosemary and garlic. But somehow I felt that I hadn’t quite done justice to the dish; through my hesitation, I had made it sound bland when it was anything but.

From then on, I found myself craving my mother’s chicken constantly, so I called her to get her recipe. The funny thing is that my mother, like a lot of mothers, doesn’t use recipes. She cooks from instinct and memory, according to her mood. Listening to her responses to my questions, I quickly realized that it didn’t matter how my great-grandmother had created the recipe. (My theory is that, faced with the difficulty of buying alcohol in Pennsylvania — this is real, Californians! — she had no choice but to rework a classic recipe for Italian chicken.) It also didn’t matter how much olive oil my mother used or whether she chopped her garlic or left it whole. All I had to remember was to use bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs, to add one cup of apple cider vinegar, and to follow the all important rule in my mother’s kitchen: use an ample amount of garlic and rosemary.

This recipe is very simple — even foolproof — if you pay close attention to two steps: rinse and pat the meat dry before attempting to brown it and give the liquid the time it needs to reduce. The vinegar will turn into a sticky glaze, flecked with rosemary, that cradles softened whole cloves of garlic, and it also tenderizes the meat, imbuing it with a sweet acidity. Given the minimal amount of work involved — such is the beauty of braising — this chicken recipe yields a lot of flavor. Call it family pride or simply good taste, but I would say that it’s nothing short of delectable.

Vinegar Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic

Serves 4
Note: I’ve found that the method of braising with vinegar works well with root vegetables too, especially Tokyo turnips. The last time I made this chicken, I added eight turnips to the pan about halfway through the braise; by the time the sauce had reduced, the turnips were fork tender and flavorful. I imagine the same would happen for chopped carrots.

4 chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
1–2 tablespoons olive oil (enough to coat the pan)
6–7 cloves garlic, peeled, lightly crushed and halved
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary, plus 1 small bunch
1 cup apple cider vinegar
About 2 cups water (how much water you use will depend on your skillet)
6-8 Tokyo turnips, halved if large (optional)

1. Season the chicken on both sides and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, preferably one with a lid, but, if not, parchment paper will do.

3. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken thighs, skin side down. After 5 minutes have passed, or once the the chicken is golden brown, turn the thighs over and repeat on the other side.

4. Add the garlic and rosemary, and cook for about a minute. Once they are fragrant, add the vinegar and and enough water so that the liquid reaches about halfway up the chicken thighs. Turn the heat to high and keep stirring all the while in order to deglaze the pan.

5. Let the mixture come to a rolling boil, then lower the heat to a steady simmer. Cover the skillet with a lid or parchment paper. If using a lid, leave it cracked a tiny bit so that the liquid will reduce. Simmer, partially covered, for 35 minutes.

6. If using, add the turnips. Continue to simmer, covered, until only about 3/4″-1″ of liquid remains in the skillet, about 25 more minutes.

7. Remove the lid or parchment paper and continue to simmer until the braising liquid reduces to a glaze. Turn the chicken thighs to coat with the glaze.

8. Place the chicken thighs on a serving dish and pour the vinegary sauce over them.

9. Serve with a salad (any leftovers make an excellent addition to any salad; the chicken tastes wonderful cold), some sauteed greens, or a side of bulgur or some other grain.

Katy Sosnak, a former scholar of Russian literature who lives in Berkeley, is the author of the blog Dining with Dostoevsky, which she launched four years ago to chronicle her adventures in the kitchen. A version of this post first appeared there. See Sosnak’s other recipes published on NOSH

Want to keep up-to-date on all the food, drink and restaurant news in the East Bay? Subscribe to NOSH Weekly, the free weekly email packed with delicious news. Simply sign up here.

Guest contributor

Freelance writers with story pitches can email editors@berkeleyside.com.