Brightwood Vintners’ Chicken
“Fast food” the way they do it in the Wood during the vintaging season
Any Earth-native reader could be forgiven for thinking, going by the current canonical material, that the Brightwood was essentially a sort of alternate Sherwood-Forest-like area with (at its core) a huge log cabin-cum-castle featuring a lot of peculiar wood carvings, and with quite a large tree growing through its living room floor.
It might be a comfort in this case to learn that a lot of people in the Four Realms picture the place in a very similar way: as a heavily wooded, deeply rural region chiefly inhabited by stereotypical rustic woodsmen—taciturn, stoic, and skilled with the spear and the bow. Nor do most of them have any particular interest in learning that hr’Raïdht einScíorfeghin (as the Darthene renders the principality’s name) is actually topographically quite diverse, including hill country, extensive wetlands, and arable plain. No matter how its locals may try to educate their other-realms fellows to the contrary, the Wood’s dense tracts of old-growth forest inevitably dominate its profile in what passes for the Middle Kingdoms’ popular culture.
Yet running a close second to the traditional images of the forested principality founded by Eálor Eagle’s-brother, and holding the mysterious Silent Precincts at its heart, would be a popular perception of the Brightwood as primarily a producer of wines—that being the context in which the vast majority of Middle Kingdoms people hear the Wood’s name invoked from day to day. The profile of these wines has perhaps inevitably been raised of late by the doings of the Brightwood’s Prince-elect (as well as by his kingly husband, whose partiality to the Wood’s drier whites is well-documented).
There’s no question that the Brightwood whites are the best-known of the region’s wines, partly due to their reliable fruiting habits. Several white-grape subspecies of the Vitis vinifera medioregnis variant cultivated there—probably with significant genetic tinkering by Rodmistresses based out of the Precincts—feature superior resistance to such vineyard pests as Phylloxera, downy mildew and black rot. As a result, the steep slopes of the hill-vineyards stretching up and down the shores of the Upper Darst have come to be dominated by these close genetic matches to such (our-Earth) European white-wine grapes as Elbling, weisser Burgunder, Fendant/Gutedel and grüner Veltliner. The Brightwood’s export market, and the fame of the wines in question, also routinely reflects this dominance.
It remains something of a mystery why the profile of Brightwood reds has never been as high. Possibly it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy issue, born of the kind of semicircular reasoning that says “Well, if they were as good as the white wines, wouldn’t we hear more about them?”… with the result that fewer people try them to confirm or deny whether they’re any good, and around it goes. Other (more cynical) observers have suggested that this is actually because the Brightwood’s red wines are better than the white ones, and they’re keeping the good stuff for themselves.
In any case, the Kingdoms' popular culture suggests that the local reds are rough and unsophisticated… better left to the sturdy Brightwood yeomanry involved in vintaging the grape harvest each year. (Insert here a typical gossipmonger’s word picture of roughly-coopered barrels being tipped full of baskets of grapes; must-purpled feet stomping the juicy, bloom-skinned fruit into mush; hot sunshine, laughter, lascivious looks among the vintagers, and drinking, so much drinking… You get the picture. Even in other universes, some things don’t easily change... and marketing is one of them.)*
Possibly it’s from this narrative that the recipe (or method) we’re describing here originally sprang. Part of the rural myth (and maybe the only true part) would be the idea that the vintners and other folk working on the vintaging would have little time to cook, and at the end of a hard day’s work would be likely to fall back on the kind of “fast food” available in the daily markets of many towns: small spit-roasted chickens, improved (in this approach) by a rich gravy based on meat-based stocks and one of those robust red wines, sharpened with sliced citron and fragranced with bay. Our version substitutes lemon for the citron that's widely available in the Four Realms, and is shown (in a popular serving presentation) with a side of homemade noodles—in this case, pumpkin noodles.
*The truth is that the actual winemaking process in the Wood is relatively large-scale—on the average, ten or fifteen percent of the province’s hundred and fifty thousand-odd inhabitants turn out to assist with the vintaging every year—and involves a fair amount of both strictly mechanical processing and magic use, both sorcery and the blue Fire being employed. Foot-stomping wouldn’t come into it even if the wine presses broke down.
The Darthene Throne subsidizes the Principality's wine harvest, paying a substantial "vintners' tithe" to those who come out to assist with the grape-picking. Many of those who turn up do so for the sake of the extra cash. Others do it to honor the memory of the Eagle's younger brother, left behind in ancient times to rule and protect the Brightwood after his brother Earn died helping to save the world. Still others, though, turn out simply to share in the experience, to be social with other Brightwood people, and because it's fun.
- 4-5 tablespoons butter
- 1 onion, chopped as finely as possible
- 4 tablespoons plain flour
- 1 liter / 1 quart of beef stock (from stock cubes / bouillon cubes if you like: we use the Kallo brand of "Just Bouillon" concentrated stock and add a stock cube as well)
- 100 ml of a strong red wine: Chianti, Cabernet sauvignon, or similar. (Omit this if you like, but add another 100 ml of water to the stock to make up the difference.)
- 1 lemon, sliced into four or five thick slices
- 4 bay leaves
- Salt and fresh-ground pepper
- Optional: a dash or two of vinegar or lemon juice to sharpen the gravy at the end of cooking
- 750g-1 kg or 1.5- 2 pounds roast chicken, depending on how many you're feeding: pulled off the bones and chopped or fork-pulled into bite-size pieces
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed non-reactive saucepan: add the finely chopped onions and cook until translucent.
Add the flour, stir well, and cook until this oniony roux is golden brown. Add more butter if necessary so that the mixture is semiliquid while it's browning.
Prepare the beef stock according to directions for whatever you're using, concentrate or cube. Pour the beef stock and red wine into the flour/butter/onion mixture and stir very well until smooth. (If you have to use a whisk to get it to smooth out, that's fine.)
Add the lemon slices, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to come very briefly to a boil, stirring all the while to make sure that the flour is all properly dissolved and thickening nicely; then lower the heat and simmer the gravy for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the cooking time is complete, remove the lemon slices and bay leaves. (Be sure you get all the bay leaves out,as whole bay leaf can damage people's insides if they accidentally ingest the central spine of the leaf.) Pour the gravy through a fine strainer and use a wooden or plastic spoon to push as much of the cooked onion as possible through the strainer into the gravy. Test the seasoning, sharpen if necessary with vinegar or lemon juice, and add salt or pepper if required.
Add the chicken pieces and warm over a low flame. Serve with your preferred side dish. Potatoes or (flour- or potato-)dumplings work best: noodles and spätzli work well too.