One of the things I most love about Saturdays in September are long cook times.
Summer menus where I live are light and vegetable based with lots and lots of gazpacho. It is too hot to eat anything else. But the weather changes quickly here in Ribera del Duero and the first autumn storms came this past week. I opened the windows, listened to the rain and thought about Oregon. Sigh.
As the seconds between thunder and lightning became greater and the storm rolled on, a sat in bed thinking about how I’d achieve the season’s first chicken braise. Root vegetables? Not at market yet. With kale? acelga (super leafy green)? Miguel wouldn’t go for it. We got some dried wild mushrooms the other day, a combination of chanterelle, porcini and boletus. Boom.
A dusted off my handmade earthenware dish that a bought in Pereruela. When I bought it the woman told me the 24-hour treatment process that I had to subject it to before it could ever be used. “Or else it might explode,” she said. Exploding earthenware, okay. It weighs exactly 7.3 pounds. That’s a lot of mud.
Every home cook should have a nice braised meat recipe in their repertoire. The key for me is that you cannot be afraid of hot oil and you must have good ventilation in the kitchen, ’cause shit’s about to get cray-cray.
Braised Chicken and mushrooms with potatoes, carrots and onions (for two).
You’ll need: chicken thighs with skin, carrots, an onion, a large potato or two, garlic, expensive or homemade vegetable or chicken stock, salt, pepper, olive oil, light cream, dried mushrooms reconstituted
1. Take out a good frying pan and coat it excitedly with olive oil. Sometimes I add a vegetable oil too so it can withstand the high cooking temp. In this case I only had extra virgin olive oil. Put heat on med-high.
2. Take 2-3 cloves of garlic and smash them enthusiastically several times on the cutting board. Remove peel. Add to pan.
3. Butter bottom of earthenware. It is not necessary, but I ran all week and wanted some richness in my braise.
4. Mind sizzling garlic. Turn heat down if garlic starts to brown too quickly. I tilt pan a few times to cover garlic with oil and fry more thoroughly. DO NOT LET GARLIC BURN. If this happens it will make oil too bitter to use and you’ll have to throw it all out and start again.
5. Wash chicken thighs under cold water. Cut off excess fat, leaving flap over top side intact. Pat dry. No water should remain. It will make the next step too gooey.
6. In a bowl, add flour a couple generous helpings of sea salt and cracked pepper. I dashed in a bit of herbes de provence. Don’t judge. Being in Spain I could have added some sweet or smoked paprika. Next time?
7. Dredge chicken through dry mixture and vigorously shake any rebellious clumps.
8. Remove garlic that should by now be toasty and brown. Add chicken in batches. DO NOT CROWD PAN. There is not rush–it’s Saturday, remember?!
9. The sound coming from the pan should be a loud, ferocious sizzle. Do not be like me when I started cooking and step away from the pan because the hot oil is attacking you. Resist urge to turn heat down unless it is burning. Open the windows if possible.
10. Take one large potato. We don’t live in the United States of Whole Foods where there are 20 kinds of organic potatoes. Today at the farmers market there were two: the little red ones and ones resembling Russets. I chose a large Russet. If you like another baking potato, go ahead. Peel, slice about the width of three quarters put together. Arrange in buttered earthenware.
11. Check chicken. If starting to get crispy brown on one side, turn. You may need to add more oil at this point.
12. Peel carrots and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Same with a yellow onion.
13. In a medium bowl add one carton of expensive chicken stock (don’t buy the cheap stuff if you are going through all this effort) or homemade and a little carton (about one cup) of light cream. Roughly chop the rehydrated mushrooms and add to bowl. Stir.
14. By now the chicken should be browned on both sides. Arrange on top of potatoes. Ladle 3/4 of the stock mix over the chicken. It should reach about halfway up the chicken. Push the mushrooms into the liquid or else they will get hard while cooking. I also chopped up the previously fried, reserved garlic and threw it in.
15. Cover with foil. Puncture foil with a few holes. Slip into preheated oven at 200 celsius/390 fahrenheit. That is really hot. I have a new oven and I am not sure about the accuracy of the temp yet. But I chekced on it every 10 minutes toward the end. I think it was in there about one hour and 20 minutes total. Poke a carrot to see if it is done. If it is tender, take out the earthenware. Let it sit for 20 minutes at least. It will continue to cook. Plate when ready and ladle the juices over the chicken.
15. I also roasted some zucchini, onions and leeks and pureed it with the other 1/4 of the stock liquid for a first-course soup.
I had a bottle of Sancerre and a little bit of Chablis laying around. I am more a fan of Chablis and the high acid cut nicely through the heartiness of the sauce. The grassiness and herbaceousness of the sauvignon blanc complemented the baked veggies. A light-bodied red could have been nice as a substitute. You really can’t go wrong. Just don’t be afraid of the hot, splattering oil. Maybe have a glass while turning the chicken.