Chicken Normandy: A Recipe (and Story) in Honor of Veteran's Day

Fresh flowers commemorating D-Day at Arromanches. Beyond, you can see remains of the Mulberry artificial harbor, which was built by the Allies to supply the troops.

Fresh flowers in gratitude at Arromanches, Normandy. I took this photo the anniversary of D-Day, 2013.

Hello everyone. Today I’m going to go visit my friend Dewey, a WWII veteran who lives in a care facility down the street from me. A few years ago, on June 6th, I was visiting a few of the elderly people there, and someone happened to mention that it was D-Day. I asked the group if anyone had any specific memories of where they were on June 6, 1944. When it came Dewey’s turn, he smiled and said–humbly–that was at the White Cliffs of Dover (across the channel from Normandy), with a unit that was given the task of transmitting false signals to the Germans.

He’s one of the few remaining people I know who did their part that day. It’s an honor to know him.

And so, with a major tip of the hat to all of those who have served their country throughout the years, I offer this recipe for Chicken Calvados. And a story about how I originally came upon it.

The American Cemetery in Normandy.

The American Cemetery in Normandy.

Les Américains Visit Normandy

From: The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day

Adventuresome travelers disparage organized bus tours, and often for good reason—getting lost and then finding your way are happy accidents that reveal a place to you in ways that no organized tour can. However, when you’re travelling with an elderly person and you want to cover lots of ground in a little time, these tours do make sense.

In fact, one of my most memorable trips was such a tour, made with my mom, an aunt, and a cousin, that in 10 days took us from Paris to Normandy and then to the Loire Valley. One day’s journey took us through the battlefields of Normandy—a site that I’m lucky to have visited with my mother and a few other travelers on the tour bus who were old enough to remember World War II.

After touring the vast and heartbreakingly quiet American cemetery, we went into a little museum. Near the door was a guest book where visitors shared their thoughts. I remember not being quite sure what to write, but my mother—80 at the time—knew exactly what to say. She stepped right up to the book and wrote, in her country school-perfect penmanship, “Way to go,fellas. I’m so proud of you.”

That night, we motored to Brittany; we were staying at a simple Logis de France (a network of charming French inns), where we dined with a far-off view of the Mont Saint-Michel, glowing warmly in the dark, drizzly night through rain-speckled windows. The menu began with one of those famous soufflé-like Mère Poulard omelets—a specialty of the region. The main course was a rich chicken Calvados—breasts of chicken served with tender apples in a cream sauce spiked with Calvados, the famous apple brandy of Normandy—a dish I’ve re-created here.

Outside, it was a cold autumn night, but inside, we were merry and warm—just another rather ordinary group of American tourists drinking good wine and enjoying a hearty, gratifying meal together. Even so, there was no other night quite like this one on the trip; I’m sure that the evening’s mirth had been made all the more precious by the cold outside, the warmth inside, and, of course, by all that we had seen that day.

Here’s the recipe, my friends. Enjoy–and raise a glass to those who’ve done their part.

Chicken Calvados, flavored with the famous apple brandy of Normandy.

Chicken Normandy (sometimes called Chicken Calvados), flavored with Calvados, the famous apple brandy of Normandy.

Chicken Calvados/Chicken Normandy: A Recipe (and Story) in Honor of Veteran's Day
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings.
 
Ingredients
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1¼ pounds total)
  • 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
  • 
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • ½ cup Calvados or apple brandy or ½ cup apple juice or cider and ½ cup white wine
  • 2 small tart apples, peeled if desired, cored, and cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 
1/4 to ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley or chives, or a combination
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken breasts, one at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to ¼-inch thickness. (Alternatively, you can halve each breast horizontally, or butterfly them, as described on page 107.) Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the chicken (in batches, if necessary) and cook, turning once, until no longer pink inside, 6 to 8 minutes (reduce the heat to medium if the meat browns too quickly). Transfer the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
  3. Stir in the shallot and sauté briefly, until translucent. Remove the pan from the heat and add the broth and Calvados, taking care not to let the liquid spatter. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring with a wire whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the apples. Let the mixture boil until the liquid is reduced to ¼ cup, turning the apples occasionally—this should take about 4 minutes, depending on the heat and your pan size; it will take closer to 7 minutes if you substitute apple juice and wine for the Calvados.
  4. Stir in ¼ cup cream and boil until the sauce thickens and apples are crisp-tender. For a creamier sauce, add more cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to boil until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency. Season the sauce with additional salt and pepper. Arrange chicken on four dinner plates, spoon the sauce and apples over the chicken, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

 

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4 comments to Chicken Normandy: A Recipe (and Story) in Honor of Veteran’s Day

  • A beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your story. I will share one back. My dad is a WWII vet who was on Utah beach that day. He still lives on his own here in Des Moines. When I talked to him to wish him a Happy Veterans day, he still calls it Armistice Day because he wants to be sure everyone still remembers all the sacrifices the WWI veterans made.

    Thank you again,
    – Joanne

    • Wini

      Joanne, you are so lucky to still have your father. My father (also a WWII vet) died in 1989, long before his generation became “The Greatest Generation.” He would have been so thrilled at the recognition (humbly, of course, but just glad to have him and his comrades acknowledged).

      Yes–I still know old-timers who call it “Armistice Day.” So touching. Many also call Memorial Day “Decoration Day.”

      Thanks for your story.

  • Jan

    I also have a Dad that served in Normandy. He never talked about it but I found a newspaper clipping that he was there. He died in 1985 and I wish I could have found out more how he was involved.
    Wini that was a Great story and a fantastic recipe, we just finished eating it tonight!
    I have been thinking about purchasing your book, now I know for sure its a winner.
    Thank You

    • Wini

      So nice to hear from you, Jan, and I am so glad you enjoyed the recipe. My father died in 1988, and I feel the same way. If only I could have asked him more! Fortunately, the BBC did a documentary on the Battle for Monte Cassino, and my father was one of the Americans who were flown back to Italy to tell his story of fighting there! So I have a great record of that. I’m so proud of him.

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