Not so many years ago in Paris, a very cool restaurant, inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1970 cult movie A Clockwork Orange, made its name with a singular dish (not to mention great design and a fabulous pastry chef as consultant). Nonetheless, the signature dish in the mecca of gastronomy was…Chicken Cooked in Coca-Cola. I smiled when I saw the menu at Korova on Paris’ rue Marbeuf, because that very dish had made a prior debut that year — in my cookbook for children called Kids Cook 1-2-3. No matter, I probably didn’t invent it either. But the merger of Coca- Cola and ketchup yields a very credible barbecue sauce. Mixed with droplets of melted chicken fat, it feels very French actually, and it mollifies the sharp edges of both drink and condiment. Finger-lickin’ good — hot, cold, or in between — every kid (and adult) I know, seems to love it.
Just last year I decided to play with the dish a bit, as chefs are wont to do. Remembering a Jean-George Vongerichten recipe for chicken with sassafras root, I swapped the Coke for root beer (a hint of sassafras!) and added a crushed garlic clove, spicy Sriracha (Thai chili sauce) and…a cinnamon stick! The result was more complex — a deeper sauce with aromatic punctuations. This is a very cool dish that might have inspired a different movie… Paris, Texas. Serve on a mound of crispy shoestring potato stix (right from the bag!) or atop a sweet potato puree accented with grated orange or fresh ginger. Cole slaw might also be nice. What to drink? A California zinfandel (red, of course), beaujolais nouveau, or…a Coca-Cola.
Root Beer Chicken with Cinnamon Stick
Sriracha sauce can be found in most supermarkets and Asian food stores. Use Tabasco if you must and search for the darkest root beer around.
1 cup ketchup
2 cups root beer
1 large clove garlic
1 long cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce
3-1/2 pound chicken, cut into eight pieces
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together ketchup, root beer, garlic pushed through a press, cinnamon stick, Sriracha, and 1 teaspoon salt. Make several deep slashes in each piece of chicken and put chicken in marinade. Let sit 1 hour at room temperature or up to 8 hours, covered, in the refrigerator. Remove the chicken from the marinade. Transfer the marinade to a saucepan. Place chicken, skin-side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake 50 minutes. Boil marinade, lower heat and cook until reduced to 1/2 cup. Baste chicken twice during cooking. Remove chicken from oven and drizzle with remaining marinade (adding some of the chicken fat for flavor and texture.) Serves 4