Poulet au Vinaigre - The Lunchtime Version

As part of this year's project to uncover the recipes and styles of cooking that I've left out of this blog for inexplicable reasons, I wanted to include more of the food from the small bistros in France (and sometimes England) that I've enjoyed over very many years. So here's a version of poulet au vinaigre based on the simple, cheap but delicious lunches that I've enjoyed at small French bistros, bars and cafés.

Poulet au vinaigre is a great classic that you'll find all over France and in many cookery books of French cuisine. The books will usually contain a refined, classic version of the dish which starts with a whole chicken and uses different cooking times for the various parts of the bird. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that but that's not what this recipe is all about.

I'm recreating the sort of lunch served to large, communal tables in happy, friendly places in the north of France 20 or 30 years ago. Such places are still around if you look diligently for them, but it seems that they're rapidly becoming an endangered species. The little café where I ate the original of this dish became a pizza restaurant for a few years before evolving into the empty, boarded-up premises that it remains to this day.

Poulet au Vinaigre - The Lunchtime Version

Because this version of the dish is based on a northern French original, calvados was added to the sauce, but brandy will be fine. If you want to avoid alcohol entirely, then the sauce will work without it, although I think it really does taste better with that small, boozy addition. If you have a good quality red wine vinegar, then use it here; the quality of the vinegar does make a significant difference to the flavour. This should serve 3 as a lunch dish with some pasta, rice or potatoes. Or maybe some vegetables, although that might be a radical suggestion in the kind of bistro I remember so fondly.

6 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in

A few tablespoons plain flour seasoned generously with salt and pepper

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp (or a little bit more) calvados or brandy

90 ml red wine vinegar

150 ml chicken stock

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

50 ml crème fraîche

2 - 3 tsp tarragon leaves, chopped, to finish

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan) and put in an oven tray that's large enough to hold the thighs in one layer and deep enough to allow them to be covered.

Coat the chicken thighs lightly all over with the seasoned flour. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a generous knob of butter in a frying pan large enough to contain all the thighs. Fry the thighs for 15 minutes, turning now and then. They should have taken on a nice bit of colour and have released a fair amount of fat. Transfer the thighs to the preheated oven tray, cover with another tray or some foil and put the tray back in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the chicken is in the oven, pour some of the extra fat away from the pan and fry the shallots gently for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and fry gently for another 5 minutes. Increase the heat a little and stir the calvados or brandy into the pan. Pour in the red wine vinegar and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer. Stir in the Dijon mustard and the crème fraîche until thoroughly combined. Remove the chicken thighs from the oven after their 20 minutes of cooking and add them to the pan. Coat the thighs in the sauce and continue cooking gently for 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning.

Serve 2 thighs per person with your chosen accompaniment and sprinkle with the chopped tarragon leaves on the plate.


  1. Your plate of food, sans vegetables, does look very much like a classic French bistro lunch. Of which we have eaten many. Luckily in our part of France there are still plenty of places serving this kind of food, although pizza and burger places are on the increase.
    This looks and sounds delicious, thanks for the recipe, although I would find it hard not to add a couple of bits of broccoli or, tantalisingly, a few haricots verts. (Speaking of which, it's often the case in our region that the dish would be offered with pasta, rice, OR haricots verts - often the tinned variety, sadly!)

    1. Oh yes, you're right. I'd forgotten the slightly odd, greyish offering of haricots (not very) verts. I usually preferred the potato or pasta option, resolving to buy some fruit as soon as I left the bistro. That was a good plan that I stuck to, unless I passed a pâtisserie first, of course.

  2. Phil, this sounds soooo good! No Calvados on hand just now, but I *always" have brandy and red wine vinegar on hand, so this will be happening very soon!

    1. Well, brandy is far more common in this dish but Normandy turns up a lot in what I've eaten and cooked over the years.


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