Braising is a cooking technique we should all master. It’s not difficult and the results will make you look like an accomplished chef (not that you aren’t…). This simple process has just a few foolproof steps. The end result is rich and flavorful.
The concept behind braising is this: the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat. It is then simmered in liquid on low-heat in a covered pot for a very long time. I like my Staub cast iron for this job because it has these litttle nubblies on the lid that allows the steam to rain back down into the pan in an even fashion. This is unlike the smooth lids of some other brands, which tend to accumulate the droplets then send them sliding down the edges of the pot. That is a very uneven distribution method in my opinion.
Cooking the meat slow, moist and covered over low heat for a lengthy time breaks down the tough connective tissue in meat. Through time, the moisture and heat build, and the collagen (which is what makes the meat “tough”) dissolves into gelatin. The gelatin moves into the sauce and works as a slight thickening agent making the sauce smooth and velvety!
The key to success is time. Because as soon as the meat cooks through, its fibers begin to expel moisture. Thereby causing the meat to become dry and less flavorful. If you were to pull the meat out of the pan at this point you would be disappointed with the results. But if you give the meat even more cooking time, these fibers relax and absorb the melted fat as well as the flavorful broth. This process is called osmosis. The long and short of it is that everything rehydrates and becomes very tender with an amazing flavor! So come on, you can do this. Try it.
Today I am braising chicken thighs, which don’t take nearly as long as other cuts of meat to achieve great results. Though I adapted this recipe for Braised Chicken Thighs with Pearl Onions, Green Olives, Golden Raisins & Preserved Lemon from The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, the inspiration came from lemons. I live in Southern California and I have 2 lemon trees in my yard. I have recently taken to preserving some of the bounty my trees produce. If you are unfamiliar with preserved lemons, well I think you should try and make their acquaintance! I learned the tecnique from the Well Done Chef and here is a link to my very first preserved lemons. The recipe I started with was prepared in the oven, it did not call for coriander and used 6 tablespoons of lemon zest instead of the preserved lemons I used. But hey, both versions are great, so that just shows you how adaptable braising really is.
serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe
- 16 oz fresh pearl onions
- 8 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin (about 2 ½ pounds)
- 1 c all-purpose flour, for dredging
- 1 t kosher salt (plus more as needed for seasoning and boiling)
- 2 T plus 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 c dry white wine
- 1 c chicken stock
- 1⁄2 c castelvetrano olives (or other green olive)
- 1⁄2 c golden raisins
- 1⁄2 c preserved lemon peels, lightly packed
- 1 bn flat leaf parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped
- 6 clv garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 c orzo
- 1 t coriander seeds
- salt and pepper to taste
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pearl onions and blanch just until the skins have loosened, about 1 minute. Drain. When cool enough to handle, cut off the root tip and pop the onions from their skins. Reserve.
Rinse the chicken thighs under cool water and pat dry. Mix together the flour, salt, and pepper. Spread the flour mixture across a shallow dish. Lightly dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Warm the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed or cast iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add four of the chicken thighs, and sear until a golden crust develops, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and sear until a golden crust forms on second side, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove thighs to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken thighs.
De-glaze the pan with the wine, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce the wine by half, about about 4 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat.
If the olives have pits, smash them with your palm and remove the pit. Then tear the meat into 2 or 3 pieces. Adding them and the reserved pearl onions and the raisins to the pot. Bring it back to a simmer and add all the chicken thighs in as close to a single layer as possible, skin side up. Cover with the lid and slowly simmer until the meat is falling away from bones, about 1 hour.
While the chicken is cooking. Coarsely chop the preserved lemon and place it, along with parsley in a small bowl. Warm a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and stir continuously in the dry skillet until you see some of the garlic’s oil released on the bottom of the pan and the garlic has a touch of golden color, 2 to 3 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Immediately spoon the garlic into lemon and parsley. Stir well to combine. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil to the garlic mixture to bind the ingredients together. The mixture should be moist but not wet. Add another teaspoon of olive oil, if needed. Reserve at room temperature until needed.
For the orzo: In a large saucepan bring about 8 cups of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the orzo, and cook until al dente about 7 minutes. Drain well. Place the orzo in a bowl and add 1/4 cup olive oil and the coriander seeds. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in all but about 8 teaspoons of the preserved lemon garlic mixture. Saving the rest for garnish.
Place the orzo onto a large serving platter, or divide between 4 plates. Place chicken thighs on top of the orzo and spoon on the sauce with the olives and raisins all over. Garnish with reserved lemon garlic and serve warm.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD