This is an experiment (and I like experiments) … here’s what we’re going to try: I’m going to tell Leona how to make braised chicken thighs and because she knows how to cook if I leave something out she’ll know to ask. You should be able to easily make this dish from this text, and remember – one reason that I like this style of cooking is because it does not have to be exact.
So this should make enough for about 2 people for dinner with some left over for one person for lunch, or you can serve three people a slightly smaller serving for dinner.
(♥ Lex’s notes)
What you’ll need:
- Four bone-in chicken thighs (♥ if you prefer you can use boneless and/or skinless chicken thighs, which will produce a leaner broth)
- 1-2 slices flavorful bacon (♥ if you don’t eat bacon you can use 1-2 Tbsp of olive oil)
- One medium onion
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- One fat carrot
- 1-2 leeks
- A few ribs of celery
- A medium turnip
- A small rutabaga
- 1-2 cups sliced mushrooms
- 1 ½ cups baby spinach
- approx. 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2-2/3 of a bottle of wine (♥ most would use red for this dish but either will work)
One of the most important things for this dish is a pot that can go straight from the stovetop to the oven. (♥ A 5-quart Le Creuset is ideal, a budget-friendly alternative is a cast-iron dutch oven.)
♥ If you’re organized and plan your meals ahead, season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper up to two days before.
Preheat your oven to 225F.
Cut the bacon into 1” pieces (or whatever size you prefer) and render it off in the pot until the bacon has released its fat and is “kinda” cooked. Remove the bacon and use the rendered fat to brown the chicken thighs on all sides. Approx 2-3 minutes should suffice – just long enough to get some nice color.
After browning your chicken set it aside and sauté your diced onion. Add the garlic (crushed or minced), carrot, celery and leeks (ä be careful not to let the garlic get too dark). Add your aromatics of choice (♥ Lex suggests a pinch of red pepper flakes, star anis and a bay leaf; Rick Robinson swears by one clove, and Leona would add a cardamom pod or two) and deglaze with a splash of chicken stock or wine before adding the cubed root vegetables and “kinda” cooked bacon.
♥ You can improvise here on your vegetables … for example in one of my chicken thigh braises I made this winter I used fennel instead of celery. You could also use potato instead of root vegetables, cabbage of your liking – though I’d use Savoy – or alter your proportions. I’d estimate you want about 2-3 cups of vegetables.
Once the veggies have started softening a bit add enough chicken stock to barely cover and bring to a boil. Rest your chicken thighs on the vegetables and put the pot in the pre-heated oven for 3-4 hours. ♥ Chicken thighs are very forgiving and can be slow-cooked for a long while so don’t worry about over cooking them, especially if your oven is at 225.
There are a number of ways to deal with the spinach and the sliced mushrooms, the easiest being to stir them in with the root vegetables, but if you do this they will be cooked within an inch of their life. Being from the south I am used to that with vegetables so it doesn’t harsh my mellow, as Farnum Brown would say.
My friend Peter Roy prefers his spinach and mushrooms with a little more life left in them so here are three alternative ways to not cook them so much:
- Approx. 30 minutes before removing the chicken just add the spinach and mushrooms on top and recover for the remaining braise time;
- Approx. 30 minutes before the chicken is done take it out of the pot, stir the spinach and mushrooms in with the vegetables and add the chicken back to the mix;
- Right before serving, sauté the mushrooms in olive oil, add a little liquid and the spinach and wilt the greens over the mushrooms. Use the spinach and mushrooms as a base to serve your chicken and vegetables on top.
♥ For a base you can also make rice, grits, mashed potatoes, Israeli couscous, or quinoa – whatever suits your fancy!