We are halfway through the first month of the New Year. Almost everybody is dealing with cold gray weather, diet burnout and the seasonal blues.
It’s time to create some food fun and add a little warmth back into our lives and our kitchens. Let’s think about making something that will nourish our winter selves and keep us on track for diets at the same time. Let’s develop rich flavor with techniques and time, not butter.
It’s time to venture into browning and braising. Braising is the technique that gives rise to classic winter dishes like Coq au Vin, Osso Buco and Pot Roast. Once you master the idea, you can create rich, succulent meals that feed your soul while helping your waistline and your wallet.
I have heard from some very wise food writers that using terms like "braising" is a turn off to home cooks. It sounds too complicated and sophisticated, they say.
I say that my readers in the South love a good braised dish. In fact, many a Southern mother relies on braising to make a filling, hot meal on a busy day. After all, that’s what many slow cooker recipes are.
To braise something, you brown it, then cook it slowly in a flavorful liquid. It’s that simple. Nothing too complicated about it at all. The browning starts the recipe with a base of rich, caramelized flavor. The braising tenderizes meat and vegetables slowly over time while it allows flavors to meld and create deep, luxurious dishes.
For a dark, cold January night, think about making something hearty, warm and satisfying.
This week, I changed up a classic and discovered you really can have fun with the classics by adding your own ideas and flavors. I used cider in the place of the traditional red wine and Dijon mustard to replace the usual roux in the sauce of a coq au vin and It turned out sweet and savory, with just a bit of a kick from the Dijon mustard.
And the bonus is that it could be cooked in a slow cooker or in the oven. I chose the oven method to make it a one pot meal, but in a slow cooker it would work just as well.
Cider-Brined and Braised Chicken with Vegetables
(You don’t really have to brine the chicken thighs to make this a good recipe. I did it just because I wanted to get more flavor imparted to the chicken. You can also add more apple flavor by adding some chopped apple to the recipe if you like.)
4 large skinless chicken thighs
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups unfiltered apple cider
1 cup all purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
3-4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup pearl onions, peeled (I use frozen pearl onions which I thaw overnight in the refrigerator.)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
10-12 tiny potatoes like Yukon Gold or Red Skins
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper
First, place the chicken thighs in a bowl with the cider and minced garlic. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Remove the thighs from the liquid, but save the liquid. Dry the thighs off with paper towels. Toss them into the flour and be sure they get coated on all sides. Preheat the oven to 300oF, or turn your slow cooker onto medium. Spray a large oven proof skillet with cooking spray. Heat it over medium heat until the skillet is hot. Place the chicken thighs in the skillet and cook them, turning, until they are browned on all sides. Remove the thighs to a plate (or your slow cooker, if you are using one.) and add the mushrooms to the pan. Cook them quickly until they have given off their juices, then add the onions and carrots, cooking them all for about five minutes until some browning has taken place. Take a cup of the cider and stir it into the pan, scraping the bottom to get all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan and distributed to the whole dish. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan (Or, if you are using a slow cooker, put everything from the pan into the slow cooker with the chicken) and stir in the herbs. Add the potatoes to the pan or slow cooker. Add just enough of the leftover cider marinade to come halfway up the sides of the chicken. Carefully cover the skillet and put it in the preheated oven (Or, if using a slow cooker, put the lid on.) Bake for 90 minutes or for 3-4 hours in the slow cooker on medium heat. Check the doneness of the carrots and potatoes, and when they are fork tender, transfer the chicken and vegetables to a heated platter. Thicken the juices by whisking in the Dijon mustard, adjust the seasoning of the sauce and pour it over the chicken and vegetables. Serve hot.
Coq au Vanity
(This is a playful name that means you can change the recipe any way you would like. If you don’t like mushrooms, add sliced carrots. If you don’t like onions, try some sliced celery. If you need to feed more folks, add more to the pot. The point is to try new things but end up with a meal you will enjoy!)
6 to 8 big chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
1 Tablespoon oil
8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
3 Tablespoons flour
4 small onions, cut in quarters (or a cup of peeled pearl onions if you are going fancy)
6 small red potatoes, quartered
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cheap red wine
2 cups stock—more if you need it to cover everything else in the slow cooker
1 Tablespoon mixed dried herbs—like herbs de Provence or a mix of thyme, oregano and basil
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt to taste
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and lay them skin side down in the skillet. Let them cook until the skin is crisp and browned, then turn them over and cook for a minute. Remove them to a slow cooker and let them cool a few minutes. Meanwhile, add the mushrooms to the pan and sauté them until they are soft. Add the flour and cook it, stirring, until the flour is incorporated with the fat in the pan and the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms and the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir the mushrooms and flour into the rest of the ingredients. Make sure you have enough liquid to cover the chicken, adding more stock or wine if necessary. Turn the slow cooker on to low and cook for six to eight hours, or on high for four to six hours. Stir the pot, adjust the seasoning and serve either in bowls or over noodles or rice.