When my wife and I got married a couple of years ago, we stressed over planning every little detail of how the day would go, like most couples do. From the coordination of dresses and flowers and tuxes, to the readings and music at the ceremony, to the tablecloths at the reception venue, we wanted it all to be “us”. We were even able to serve five of our homebrewed beers at the reception, and our guest favor was a beer tasting glass featuring our initials and wedding date surrounded by a wreath of hops and barley. However frantic we were at the time, we always look back at how all our planning made that day absolutely perfect. However, because we spent every last drop of energy planning the big day (heck, with well over 200 guests and a limited budget – it required a lot of planning!), we did not have a lot of time or energy to plan our honeymoon. Three days after our big day, we were back at work daydreaming about where we would spend a week or two worrying about nothing and enjoying our newlyweddedness.
After much discussion (and a generous cash gift from our family), we decided to forgo the typical honeymoon on the beach. Instead of cabanas and frozen cocktails, we chose the cafés and lambics of Belgium. And the cool breeze and windy roads of Ireland appealed more than a Cancun resort. That would have had limited beer options anyway. Unlike our wedding, the honeymoon was minimally planned. We had sleeping arrangements scattered across the two nations, but not much in between. We had some ideas of a few things we wanted to see and do, but not much beyond that. We were ready for surprises.
One of the biggest surprise we encountered, besides the widespread availability of Coors Light throughout Ireland (it’s everywhere), was the quality of the food in Belgium. There aren’t many Belgian restaurants in America. I certainly haven’t seen any around Kansas City. But everything we ate in Flanders and Wallonia was absolutely delicious. From the street food to the random hole-in-the-wall restaurants to the fancy beer-paring dinner at Den Dyver, each bite was amazing. When we got home, we wanted to learn how to cook like a Belgian and we’ve had a lot of fun trying to pull it off. From mussels, to rabbit, to waterzooi, we’ve had some misses, but many more hits. Here’s one we tried a couple Sundays ago that turned out amazingly well.
This is a recipe adapted from one of our favorite cookbooks, Everyone Eats Well in Belgium. It takes a couple hours to cook, but is not difficult. Much like homebrewing, there’s a series of steps, but there’s lots of time in between to sip a beer, watch some football, and play with the baby. With an 8-month old in the house, everything we do requires that one parent be free to entertain him at any given time. This dish requires a dutch oven large enough to hold a whole chicken (or, I guess, a bird that fits in the dutch oven that you own) and lots of vegetables, frozen or fresh. No matter what you have on hand, this dish will turn out wonderfully.
Belgian Chicken and Vegetables
You really can substitute just about any vegetable into this recipe. So be creative and use whatever is in season or whatever you have nearing expiration in the freezer. Just think about how long it takes to soften the veggies you’re using and stagger when you add them to the pot accordingly. Note that we aren’t exact recipe followers and all of the amounts and times are rough estimates.
Total time: about 2 hrs.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 leeks, white and light green parts only; sliced into 1/2″ pieces
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1″–2″ pieces
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, chopped, or
2 shallots, chopped, or
10–15 pearl onions We had year-old pearl onions in our freezer crying out to be used.
- 3–5 sprigs of thyme
- 3–5 sprigs of parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of tarragon The thyme, parsley and tarragon came from our little herb garden. We learned this year that growing herbs is way cheaper than buying them for every recipe. And they’re tolerant of only occasional watering.
- 1 cup Belgian beer (saison or dark abbey, nothing too bitter)
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 chicken bouillon cube
- 1 whole chicken, 3–4 lbs.
- 1 lb. green beans We used the cleaned and trimmed fresh ones in a bag from Trader Joe’s. Gotta love all their ready-to-go fresh foods.
- 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
- 3/4 cup frozen peas
- 3/4 cup frozen corn We used leftover bags of frozen peas and corn.
- Heat the oven to 350° F.
- Melt the butter in the dutch oven over medium-low heat. Toss in the leeks, onions, and carrots. Cook for 10 minutes or so, until soft, but not brown. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two.
- While the root vegetables are cooking, tie the thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and tarragon together with kitchen twine into a bouquet garni.
- Pat dry the chicken and cut off any extraneous fat. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. If you have an extra sprig or two of parsley and/or thyme, place that in the chicken cavity.
- Dissolve the bouillon into the 4 ounces of warm water and the beer. You might need to warm the beer in the microwave first to help the bullion dissolve.
- When the root vegetables are soft, place the bouquet garni and chicken into the dutch oven on top of the veggies. Pour the beer/bullion mixture over the bird. Bring to a boil with the lid off and continue boiling for 5 minutes.
- Put the lid on the dutch oven and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Add the green beans. Replace the lid and continue to bake for another 30 minutes.
- And add the broccoli, peas and corn. Replace the lid and bake another 10 minutes or until broccoli is bright green.
- When the veggies are all nice and steamed, remove the dish from the oven and take the chicken from the dutch oven and place it on a carving board. When it’s cool enough to handle, carve the meat from the bird.
- With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables and place them in a serving bowl.
- If the liquid left in the dutch oven is thin, you can thicken it to your liking. (Ours was about half way between “juice” and “gravy”.) To thicken the liquid, remove about a third of it and mix with a tablespoon of corn starch in a small bowl. When that is dissolved, add it back to the dutch oven and heat slowly until it thickens to your liking.
- Serve the chicken and vegetables together, spooning a little sauce over each. And of course, serve with a fine Belgian ale.
This recipe for chicken and vegetables is perfect for a Sunday dinner as the weather turns cool. The oven will warm the kitchen, and the long breaks give you time to have a beer, rake the leaves, or catch some football.
If you try this recipe, let us know how it turns out. We think you’ll love it.