Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Daring Cooks' Challenge: Brave the Braise...Featuring Ooh-La-La Braised Chicken

It’s time for another Daring Cooks' kitchen challenge! This month's challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book Ruhlman’s Twenty. Braising is a basic cooking technique that every cook should have in their culinary bag of tricks. Braising uses heat and liquid over low heat to cook anything from meat to veggies. The final dish is usually very moist and tender thanks to this one-two punch! Braising is pretty versatile: it can be done in an oven, or on the stovetop.

I originally had wanted to try my hand at cooking beef short ribs in red wine, but I wasn’t happy with the ribs I found the day I was cooking this meal. So, I opted to braise chicken instead. I did some poking around online and found a great recipe at the Cooking Light website for Bistro Braised Chicken. One ingredient especially intrigued me: dried plums. AKA? Prunes. I wasn’t sure about that, but knew I could add some gorgeous plump golden raisins at Central Market and use them for adding a similar sweet undertone to the sauce. I also used 1 cup of white wine in place of the water the recipe called for, and I added some rosemary and garlic as well. 

The recipe is homey and comforting: veggies, aromatic herbs, chicken stock, and white wine combine with chicken breasts and thighs to make a truly comforting meal. Once the chopping is done and the chicken is browned, the rest of the meal is hands-off while the whole thing simmers away in a Dutch oven on the stovetop for 45 minutes. I served the finished braise over butter-parsley egg noodles the first night. And the raisins? They gave the finished dish a slightly sweet undertone...and they plumped up and tasted great after soaking in the sauce for nearly an hour!

Ooh-La-La Braised Chicken
adapted from Cooking Light

Step 1:  Add 1 tbs. canola oil to a 5-quart Dutch oven and turn heat to medium. While the pan heats up, season four chicken thighs and two large breasts (skin on, bone in) with salt and pepper. Sear the chicken in two batches until browned, first the breasts and then the thighs. Set the chicken aside on a platter while you prepare the rest of the braise. NOTE: After the chicken is browned, drain the grease from the pan...the skin will render quite a bit of fat.

Step 2:  Add the following to the Dutch oven: 1 tbs. butter, 1 thinly sliced carrot, 2 sliced stalks of celery, 1/2 small yellow onion sliced in matchstick pieces, 2 minced or grated cloves garlic, and 1/3 cup golden raisins. Cook over medium heat for about four minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. dried rosemary, 1 tsp. sea salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine.

Step 3:  Add the reserved chicken pieces, nestling them into the Dutch oven among the veggies. Add 2 cups chicken broth and 1 cup white wine to the pan. The liquid should nearly cover the chicken. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to med-low. Cover and simmer on the stove for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and tender. Uncover and raise the heat to med-high until the sauce is boiling. Let the sauce reduce for about 10 minutes, until it  has thickened a bit. Next time, I'll dredge my chicken in flour before browning...which will help the sauce thicken a bit easier.

Step 4:  While the chicken is resting, cook some egg noodles according to package directions. When they're done, drain and add 1 tbs. butter and some parsley. Stir to combine. To serve, place some of the noodles in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Remove the skin from the chicken and top the noodles with one breast or two thighs, along with some of the sauce and veggies. This isn't a soup, so you only need a bit of the flavorful reduction.

We really enjoyed this chicken. It was filling, and the sauce was very flavorful thanks to the aromatics, wine, and herbs. The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and so flavorful! The leftovers were even better last night: I added 1/4 cup cream to the reserved sauce, sliced the chicken, and served it all over rice. I think the addition of the cream really took it over the top, so I will add a bit before serving the next time I make this dish. It's only a little cream, but it's that little something extra that takes the flavor over the top!

If you'd like to join us for next month's Daring Cooks' Challenge, you can go to The Daring Kitchen website to join. April's challenge will be unveiled in the next few days, so now's the perfect time to join the fun for next time! The challenges are always fun, and they provide participants a great way to try a cooking technique or style of cooking that they might not normally try on their own. I personally find that it's a great way to expand your culinary expertise and meet some really creative food bloggers!

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