Praise The Braise

Praise The Braise

Braise. It is one of those words, like velvet, that just sounds good to say.  It rolls off the tongue and calls to mind warmth, comfort; a battered, stained orange Le Creuset pot lazily bubbling away, sending out delicious smells throughout the house.  A very close friend of mine sent me a picture of a pot of braised chicken he made the other day and I could not stop thinking about it.  I imagined the taste, the chicken rich with flavor, the flesh falling off the bone.  Winter has been a mild affair so far in Tokyo.  Nothing like the reports of dagger-like cold in New York.  Still, when the sun goes down, it gets chilly.  No better time than to put together a nice bit of braised goodness.

I often make a fairly simple dish of chicken braised with white wine, garlic and rosemary; sometimes, in the last couple of minutes I will toss in a bunch of cherry tomatoes, cooking them until they just start to pop.  Other times, I will mix in sausage or thick cut bacon (as a friend said in regards to my cooking, “When you are cooking meat, add more meat.”).  This time, I remembered a dish I had made years ago, a “Hunter’s Wife’s Stew” based on a recipe from the great cookbook author, Marcella Hazan.  This is basically a whole chicken braised in white wine, tomatoes, red peppers, onions, garlic and rosemary.  I had to make a few additions and adjustments because it is hard to find  bone-in chickens in Japan other than wings and  whole chickens are fairly pricey (I settled on a mix of boneless thighs and drumstick wings).   As I cooked, both of my children wandered into the kitchen, drawn by the smell.  When it was ready I served the chicken over my smashed potatoes (a sort of simpler, healthier alternative to mashed).  It turned out remarkably well, soul-satisfying, deep in flavor — an immersive experience.  Plates were licked clean, bits of the sauce scraped up on fork tines, a certain buzz of pleasure.  A praiseworthy braise.

So….I thought I would share the recipe!

First gather your chicken.  I think the best possible thing is about 2-3 pounds of bone-in chicken thighs, but you can also get a whole bird and break it down into 8 pieces.  Roughly dice a whole onion, a stalk of celery, a small green pepper and four to five cloves of garlic.  Cut a medium sized red pepper into thin slices. Cut a medium size carrot into 1/4″ pieces.  Slice 8 shitake mushrooms into pieces not too thick, not too thin.  Clean your chicken, pat dry with paper towels, and place in a large bowl.  Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and the juice of half a lemon.  Some people like to dredge their chicken in flour before browning.  I don’t really see the point of this step but feel free to try if you like.  Get a deep, heavy-bottomed dutch oven (or stockpot) and heat up some olive oil.  Brown the chicken in batches so you do not crowd the pan.  When done return the chicken to the bowl.  Add your vegetables (minus the mushrooms) plus 3 anchovies into pot and cook over medium / medium low heat — ten minutes or so — until all your vegetables are soft and your onions transparent.  Add a half bottle of nice, dry white wine, turn up heat, and scrape the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Let the alcohol burn off for about 3 minutes, then add a can of San Marzano tomatoes.  Add a tablespoon of fresh, minced rosemary, 2 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons of Mexican oregano and a cup of water.  Raise heat until you have a lazy boil.  Add your chicken back into the pot making sure you stir the sauce up from the bottom, covering all the pieces. Toss in a half cup of chopped Kalamata or Gaeta olives and a quarter cup of capers. Let it simmer away, checking occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking.  You want to let this braise for at least an hour, letting the sauce reduce and thicken.  When you are about half-way there, heat up a cast iron pan until really hot and add your mushrooms, stirring them in a frenzy until they are cooked through.  I like to do this because sometimes when you cook your mushrooms in oil, they just absorb all that oil and somehow this disrupts the flavor and texture to me.  When mushrooms are cooked add into the pot.  When you notice the sauce has thickened and meat is starting to fall off the bone, you are ready to eat.  If the sauce ever becomes too thick, add some water…It can’t harm anything and will boil away in time.  Taste for seasoning adding some salt or pepper if needed.  Garnish with chopped Italian parsley and serve.

Some people serve this dish with rice or pasta dusted in butter and parmesan.  I think potatoes are the best, so here’s my simple, smashed potatoes.  Take 5 medium sized potatoes — I like Yukon Golds — cleaned with a brush and cut them in half.  Drop them in a pot with cold water and let them boil until just past the point where a fork will easily slide out.  Drop them into a bowl, add olive oil, some milk, a tablespoon of sour cream and mash them up with a fork to the point where there are still some chunks, but it is overall creamy.  You can also add butter, chicken stock, roasted garlic, chives, shallots…anything really.

So there you have it, a delicious meal that will warm you up, make your family happy and provide you, probably, with a great lunch the next day.  ENJOY!

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