I don’t like change. I never have. I like old towels, worn-in jeans, misshapen sweaters and old-fashioned comfort foods. I adjust, of course, but slowly, and that falls into my culinary tastes. Even when it’s 90 degrees with sweltering humidity, I still crave the delicious richness of a brasied meat and potatoes. But I started this blog as a way to broaden my tastes, change my eating habits and to learn.
There are infinite things to learn about cooking: techniques, knife skills, information on thousands of ingredients, how to salvage recipes gone wrong. Every recipe teaches me something, as does every mistake. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that cooking is a labor of love, a gift to the senses.
Chefs on reality shows and the super-chefs of the Food Network nearly bludgeon viewers with their big idea of Cooking With Love, the use artful and creative preparation of food as a way to express affection to family and loved ones. It is a beautiful sentiment, and realistically, a fantastic and wholesomely marketable way to promote celebrity chefs and their shows, and sell Food Network cookware.
But it’s also true.
The act of cooking serves a paramount purpose: nourishing the people close to you. It is a simple task that can be incredibly profound, and it’s never more apparent than when you discover or create a recipe that inspires much more than just yummy noises. A simple meal can be the bedrock of tradition and nurture celebration. My understanding of the Cooking With Love concept has once again been reinforced by creating. It is everything I love: rustic braised chicken suspended in a rich sauce studded with potatoes. It is warming and hearty, and can be made in about just an hour.
I have dubbed this dish Cooking School Chicken as I get to practice a lot of techniques—braising, deglazing, chopping—and because it has taught me the biggest cooking lesson there is and one that will never change.
1 pound baby red potatoes, cut in bite-size pieces
6 to 8 chicken thighs (with bone and skin)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Flour for dredging
1 ½ to 2 medium leeks, washed and finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 to 3 carrots, peeled, cut in edible pieces
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or juice of ½ lemon)
2 tablespoons Half & Half
Parsley Flakes (optional)
Cut potatoes into even bite-size pieces, halves or quarters for the larger spuds. Rinse. Pour potatoes into a medium pot, cover with water and place over medium-high heat to boil while you chop vegetables and prep chicken. Boil potatoes until they are soft but still a bit firm, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain. Season conservatively with salt, pepper and a pat of butter.
Wash and finely chop leeks. Set aside.
Peel and rinse carrots. Quarter carrots lengthwise, then cut into roughly 2-inch strips (Note: You can use baby carrots to decrease prep time. I have used both. I find that larger carrots impart more flavor. And I really like peeling them).
Rinse and pat chicken dry. Season with salt, pepper and dried thyme on both sides. Dredge in flour seasoned with same spices. Be sure to tap chicken gently to remove any excess flour.
Place the biggest skillet you have (16” or bigger) over moderately high heat and add enough olive oil to coat bottom of the pan. When oil is hot, place chicken skin-side down and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. You may need to work in batches as not to crowd the pan. Transfer chicken to plate.
Drain off oil, chicken juices and darkened flour and reserve in measuring cup. Carefully wipe out any burnt bits from bottom of pan.
Place skillet over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of reserved oil, then leeks. Sweat until leeks are soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper. Deglaze with white wine. Cook until liquid begins to bubble at the sides. Add carrots and 1 teaspoon of thyme.
Add 2 cups of chicken broth and stir to combine, allow to cook until liquid is boiling and has reduced a bit. Add chicken, skin-side up, and juices from plate. Cover and simmer chicken on low until meat can be easily removed from the bone with a fork and carrots are done, about 30 to 40 minutes. Shake the pan peridocially while simmer.
When chicken is done, transfer to plate. The leftover liquid should now be thicker and even formed a brown crust in some spots (don’t panic, it’s flavor!). Increase heat to medium. Add remaining chicken broth and stir. Let sauce thicken and reduce for about 10 minutes. Season with pepper and thyme if needed. Add potatoes and two palmfuls of parsley flaskes for color.
When sauce has thickened to desired consistency, add lemon juice to brighten and Half & Half to thicken. Check and adjust seasoning if needed*. Add chicken back to skillet and leave on heat for a few minutes to marry flavors.
Serve immediately. This can be made a day ahead of time.
*Lemon juice will bring out the flavor of salt, so use it conservatively when seasoning sauce and vegetables.
*Also, I almost always use Half & Half in place of heavy cream unless I'm baking. It’s readibly available, and a bit healthier. Feel free to use cream if you wish.
*Recipe originally posted on http://www.foodieslikeusblog.com/ as a guest blog by yours truly.