gmtoday_small.gif

 


Chicken in a sauce: Easy dishes that won't put you in a stew

January 26, 2015

Chicken braised with fennel, mushrooms and olives.

My slogan for 2015? "A chicken in every pot." Somebodyís already used that? Well, mine comes with recipes to get you started. Take that, Herbert Hoover, and you too, Henry IV!

Itís about as basic as cooking can get: chicken cooked slowly in a sauce. Really, this is one of those dishes that is more technique than actual recipe. Once youíve run through it a couple of times, youíll find that you can adapt it quite easily to almost anything you have in your refrigerator or pantry.

This is a dish that usually takes about an hour to make, most of it spent daydreaming while the pot bubbles on the stove ó just enough work to make you feel like youíre actually cooking. The recipe scales up quite nicely, so you can make a double or triple batch for a weekend dinner party and still have enough left over for an after-work survival meal. And, yes, like most stews and soups, itíll actually be better the second (and third) time around.

Go Italian with a spin on chicken cacciatore from the Emilia-Romagna, flavored with pancetta, red wine and tomatoes. Or you can go Cal-Med and make it with fennel, mushrooms and green olives. Or maybe just finish the chicken with some prepared mole from Grand Central Market.

And, of course, you can make up your own dishes. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

First, use dark meat. There are tricks to cooking breasts this way ó arrange the dark meat on the bottom of the pan and stack the breasts on top, out of the sauce so they get less heat ó but even with these workarounds, the white meat seems inevitably to dry out. Better to start with thighs and legs, which will stay moist and tender when braised.

Brown the chicken well. This means making sure the skin is completely dry beforehand and getting the pan hot enough to sear ó dip a corner of the chicken into the oil; if it sizzles immediately, the temperature is right. Donít crowd the pan. Just face that youíre going to have to cook two batches and donít be tempted by shortcuts.

After youíve browned the chicken, pour off most of the fat before starting to build the sauce. You donít want the dish to be greasy. But do leave behind all those browned bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Lots of flavor there.

Build the sauce in stages and take your time. Onions first, until they soften. Then carrots and celery if youíre using them. Cook the garlic just briefly; it should still be fragrant. Scrape the bottom of the pan while youíre cooking; the moisture the vegetables give off will be enough to loosen those flavorful browned bits.

If youíre using wine to finish the sauce, add it first and let it cook before adding other liquids. This will evaporate the harsh alcohol flavor. Add the other ingredients and continue cooking until you get the consistency you want (remember that the chicken will release some liquid during cooking, so start with the sauce slightly thicker than you want the final product to be).

Finish cooking the chicken in the sauce. Youíll know itís done when the meat plumps and firms, the skin begins to pull away from the joints and there are no pink juices when the meat is pricked with a knife.

Iím not sure exactly what to call this kind of dish. Some folks refer to it as a saute, but technically thatís a different thing ó very little sauce that is added just at the last minute. This is kind of a fricassee, but these days that infers a white sauce, which is too limiting. Cookbook author and cooking teacher Anne Willan, who knows more about traditional French cooking than anyone around, suggests that classically this would probably be a ragoŻt.

Maybe Iíll just stick with "chicken in a pot."

óóó

CHICKEN BRAISED WITH PANCETTA AND TOMATOES

Serves 6 to 8.

3 pounds chicken legs (thighs, drumsticks or a combination)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 pound diced pancetta

2 cups diced onions (2 onions)

3/4 cup diced carrot (1 carrot)

1/2 cup diced celery (1 stalk)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup red wine

2 cups chopped canned tomatoes and their juice

1 bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When itís hot enough that a piece of the chicken dipped in the oil sizzles, add the chicken, skin-side down.

2. Cook until the chicken has browned, 5 to 6 minutes, and then turn and cook on the other side, 4 to 5 minutes. When it is done, remove the chicken to a braising pan and keep it warm.

3. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the skillet and add the pancetta. Cook until it is browned, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and cook until it is softened, about 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to free up any browned sticky bits. Add the carrots and celery, and cook until they soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant, about 2 minutes.

4. Add the red wine and allow it to reduce by a third, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf and rosemary, and cook briefly to marry the flavors. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

5. Pour the sauce over the browned chicken in the braising pan, cover and cook over medium-low heat until the chicken is quite tender and begins to pull away from the bone, 35 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

CHICKEN BRAISED WITH FENNEL, MUSHROOMS AND OLIVES

Serves 6 to 8.

1 cup flour

Salt and pepper

3 pounds chicken legs (thighs, drumsticks or a combination)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 bulbs fennel, quartered and sliced 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick, fronds reserved

1/4 cup minced shallots

1 cup white wine

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 pound mushrooms, trimmed and halved

1/2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Lemon juice, if necessary

1. Place the flour on a plate and stir in 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pat the chicken thoroughly dry and dredge it in the flour, shaking off any excess.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When itís hot enough that a piece of the chicken dipped in the oil sizzles, add the chicken, skin-side down. Cook until the chicken has browned, 5 to 6 minutes, and then turn and cook on the other side, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and keep it warm.

3. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the fennel and cook until it starts to become tender, about 3 minutes. Add the shallots and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce by one-third, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard and add the mushrooms and green olives.

4. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan skin-side up, resting them on top of the fennel. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the chicken is done through, about 10 minutes.

5. While the chicken is finishing, chop together the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of the reserved fennel fronds.

6. Taste the sauce for the chicken and correct the seasoning, adding lemon juice if necessary to sharpen the flavor. Divide the fennel and mushrooms among four warmed pasta bowls. Place the chicken on top and sprinkle with the chopped fennel fronds and lemon zest.

 

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services