Sunday, March 22, 2009

Best Braised Chicken

Pot roasts, shanks, short ribs, and brisket taste best when they’re braised; that means slow cooked at a lower temperature…mmmm. The food cooks in liquid, like stock, wine or canned tomatoes and the result is deliciously tender – “falling off the bone”. It’s safe to say that when you use a slow cooker, you’re using the braising technique, especially if you brown the food before you put it into the pot.

Chicken pieces (on the bone) lend themselves to this type of cooking. Breasts with rib meat, thighs and legs produce a delicious, moist, tender meal when braised, and, unlike their red meat counterparts, braised chicken comes together in under an hour. My recipe for Braised Chicken in Marsala Wine with Herbes de Provence demonstrates this technique perfectly; better yet, we get to skip a step and use just a pan – no slow cooker needed!

First, you want to make sure that the pieces of chicken are cut to similar size so that they cook evenly. Slicing the breasts into two pieces satisfies this requirement. Begin by heating equal amounts of butter and olive oil in a skillet, over medium high heat. (The amount you use will depend on the size of your skillet. To braise six thighs, I use one tablespoon of each.)

Carefully place the chicken into the hot oil, skin side down. The oil is hot and the chicken will splatter. Use a splatter guard to prevent some of the mess. Once the chicken is in the pan, don’t touch it; no touching, no prodding, no pushing, no nothing! Allow the skin to contract and caramelize. At this point, I season the uncooked side of the chicken with salt and pepper. When the skin side of the chicken is golden, use tongs to carefully turn and brown it on the other side. Season the cooked side with salt and pepper and remember to leave the chicken alone. When both sides are golden, remove the chicken to a platter to rest.

Pour off most of the drippings, but save just enough to retain a thin coating in the pan. For this dish, I sliced onions and peppers and cooked them in the drippings. I seasoned the veggies with excellent dried herbs. Once they were caramelized, I poured in my liquids du jour: Marsala wine and marinara sauce. When the sauce simmered and reduced, I tucked the chicken into the liquid and veggies, covered the pan and simmered the dish until the chicken was cooked through. The whole process was over in 45 minutes.

The end result is a moist, fragrant chicken dish that you can serve during the week, or for company. Let me know what you think!

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