October 11, 2018
Braising is hands-down my favorite way to cook a chicken. The veggies are cooked in with the chicken, making it a one-pot meal. All you need to go alongside it is a loaf of bread or some rice to soak up all the delicious broth. It yields an extremely moist, flavorful chicken that falls off the bone. It’s the ultimate healthy, comfort food.
I learned to braise chicken from Julia Turshen cookbooks. Both It’s All Good and Small Victories have braised chicken recipes in them. In Small Victories, she includes a spin-offs section where she explains how to make different variations. I’ve included them all below.
If you don’t own any Julia Turshen cookbooks, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They’re full of useful tips, delicious recipes, excellent writing and gorgeous photography. You’ll grow to love her just as much as her food. Everything below is from Small Victories.
One 3.5lb chicken cut into 10 pieces (2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 breasts cut in half across the bone), backbone discarded (or saved for another use, like stock), at room temperature, patted dry with paper towels
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 large leeks, root ends and dark green tops trimmed off and discarded (or reserved for another use, like stock)
1.5 cups chicken stock
A small handful of finely chopped chives
Season the chicken pieces generously on both sides with salt and pepper. In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chicken, skin-side down, in batches as necessary so that the pieces don’t crowd the pot, and cook, without moving the chicken, until it is well browned on the bottom, about 8 minutes. Once the chicken is nicely browned and you are able to move it without any resistance (the gorgeous brown crust will release the chicken from the cooking surface), turn it over and cook until it’s browned on the second side, another 8 minutes. Be patient, and don’t push and poke the pieces too much (I find it’s good to clean the leeks, make a phone call, or do something similarly distracting while browning the chicken… my dad always plays Solitaire!) Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Don’t wash the pot.
Meanwhile, cut each leek in half lengthwise and then across into 1-inch thick semi-circles. Put the leeks into a large bowl full of cold water and swish them around so that any dirt that’s clinging to them (as it tends to) sinks to the bottom. Gently scoop the leeks up and out of the water and let them drain in a colander. Do NOT just pour the leeks and their soaking water into the colander, or you will just end up pouring all the dirt back over them.
Put the leeks and chicken stock into the reserved pot and bring to a boil over high heat. While it’s coming to a boil, scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits from the surface; flavor! Once the stock has come to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low so that it rolls along at a gentle simmer. Return the chicken to the pot, along with any juice that has accumulated on the plate. Cover the pot with a lid that’s ever so slightly ajar and cook, uncovering the pot once or twice to give the whole thing a stir, until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes.
Season the broth to taste with salt and pepper and serve the chicken sprinkled with the chives. I like to serve this straight from the pot. This is also very good gently reheated the next day, and it freezes nicely.
For a Spanish variation, season the chicken not only with salt and pepper but also with a bit of hot pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika). Substitute a jar of rinsed and drained Piquillo peppers for the leeks and add a few minced garlic cloves and a handful of small Spanish olives (either pitted or give your friends a warning before eating).
For a hearty and healthful one-pot meal, substitute a bunch of chopped dark leafy greens for the leeks and add two diced sweet potatoes or a peeled and diced butternut squash.
For slightly Vietnamese braised chicken, leave out the leeks and add a packed 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tbsp fish sauce, and two minced garlic cloves along with the chicken stock. Once the chicken is cooked through, stir a head of chopped napa cabbage and let it wilt. Serve over rice.
From Small Victories by Julia Turshen