Viking-Style Chicken Stew with Beer

Cooking with Beer by | Jan 2016 | Issue #108
Photos by Sean Z. Paxton

The New Year inspired me to consider the Nordic countries of Scandinavia, with their short winter days and long, cold nights. The Vikings have always fascinated me and I wanted to learn more about their cuisine and how they would have survived this frigid climate in the 10th and 11th centuries. They lived simply when not raiding, and beer was a part of their diet as it had a high carbohydrate element, adding calories and flavor to their cuisine. Here are a few recipes perfect for this time of year.

Viking-Style Chicken Stew with Beer
The Vikings were all about one-pot meals. Typically a cauldron was positioned near a fire in the hearth and allowed to cook low and slow. Foraged root vegetables created much of the flavor for a stew of this nature. Using a Doppelbock-style beer will enhance the flavors produced from the Maillard reaction of the browning chicken, as the malts used in this brew are kilned in a similar fashion. Mixed with mushrooms, this earthy flavor is further enhanced, creating a perfect stew for a cold winter night. A Smoked Porter could also be used, as the hearth flavors from cooking with fire would have seasoned a Viking stew with its smoke as well as heat.

Serves: 6 guests

1 chicken, whole, about 3–4 pounds
4 tbsp unsalted butter
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
8 oz pearl onions, peeled
1 leek, washed and sliced
1 rutabaga, peeled and cubed
2 turnips, peeled and cubed
4 parsnips, peeled and cubed
6 carrots, medium-sized,
peeled and cubed
8 oz cremini or button mushrooms, quartered
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
24 oz Doppelbock, Bock or Smoked Porter-style beer
1 cup stock (chicken, turkey or roasted vegetable)
3 cups water
1 cup pearl barley (optional)
8 oz stinging nettle (optional)
2 tbsp parsley, chopped fine

Place the whole chicken onto a cutting board and remove the legs from the back. Then, separate the drumstick from the thigh. Repeat on the other side. Cut off each wing, finding the joint under the breast and set aside. Next, place your knife along the inside of the back, cutting from inside the cavity, removing the backbone and separating the rib bones from the spine. Split the breast in half and the chicken is now cut into eight pieces. Season it on each side with salt and pepper.

In a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat, add the butter. If the heat is too high, the butter will burn, ruining the dish. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down. If your pot is too small, cook four pieces at a time. Sauté the chicken for 6–7 minutes on each side, or until the skin is golden brown. This step adds an important layer of flavor to the finished stew. Once the chicken is browned, remove it to a plate and repeat with the remaining poultry, including the back as it will help create a stock.

As the chicken is cooking, prepare all the vegetables. Wash and peel them, then cut them into evenly cubed pieces. This will help the stew cook evenly. Place the onions, leeks, rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, carrots and mushrooms into a bowl. Once all the chicken has been browned and removed, add the vegetables to the pot. Stir to coat in the fat. Season the vegetables with thyme, pepper and a few pinches of salt. Cook the vegetables for 7–9 minutes, until they have a little color and are starting to brown around the edges.

Add the chicken pieces to the pot, along with any juices and deglaze the pot with the beer. Next, add the stock and water. If you’d like a thicker or hardier version of this stew, you can add pearl barley. Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer and allow the stew to cook for 30–35 minutes, or until all the vegetables are fork tender and the chicken is cooked through.

To enhance the flavor and acknowledge the foraging skills of the Vikings, add stinging nettle to the stew. Stinging nettle can be found in the wild or at some farmers markets. A toxin on the tiny hairs of the stinging nettle’s leaves and stems will irritate the skin (hence the name), so use gloves when handling. This chemical toxin is deactivated when cooked, creating a wonderful flavor and added health benefits (it’s an anti-inflammatory used to help joint pain and treat gout and is high in minerals and vitamins including vitamin C). Remove the leaves from the stems and simmer for 2–3 minutes.

To serve, divide the vegetables and beer broth among as many bowls as there are guests. The chicken pieces can be added whole to each bowl or all the meat can be removed from their bones, shredded, and divided up for a more refined version of this Old World dish. Garnish with the parsley, a sprinkle of salt, a crack of pepper and serve the stew with artisan breads.