Braised Chicken Thighs with Lemon, Garlic and Veggies
Braises are especially yummy this time of year when all we want to do is curl up in front of the fire with some comfort food. Here's a healthy one, full of flavor to satiate all of your needs. (Great left-over too!)
The key to a good braise is a hot pan, hot oil, then a nice sear of properly seasoned ingredients. This caramelization of the sear is what will create the most flavor in your dish. Do not play around with the ingredients while they are searing, in this case the chicken. You will muddle the beautiful sear and make the chicken stick to the pan. As long as you started with a hot pan and hot oil (I prefer butter or coconut oil for flavor and "de-sticking" properties) your meat will talk to you; when it releases from the pan it's ready to be flipped. You should brown (caramelize) the meat once on each side and remove from the pan, working in batches so you don't over crowd the pan. Then add in your aromatics: onion, cook until transclucent; then garlic, cook until fragrant; then whatever other flavorful vegetables are going in, in this case fennel. Once tender, deglaze the pan with the wine or other alcohol, you can use any liquid, including water however an alcohol works best. Using a wooden spoon scrape all of the delicious browned bits into the sauce, working all of that flavor that you developed on the pan into the dish. Add your meats and other flavorings back into the pan and cover (2/3 - 3/4 of the way up) with liquid. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook until it's fork tender. On to our recipe:
3 TBS butter, olive oil, or coconut oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan
3 lbs chicken thighs
~20 cloves garlic, smashed (A LOT OF GARLIC, feel free to add even more! It totally mellows out)
2 sweet onions or leeks, julienned
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
12 oz (1 1/2 cups) tomatoes, canned or fresh grape tomatoes, halved
3 cups white wine
8 cups chicken stock, homemade preferably
zest of 2 lemons
additional vegetables: 2-3 cups artichoke hearts
pinch saffron, optional. Can also use other desired spices
S&P to taste
juice of 2 lemons, may need more
handful of herbs: parsley, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, basil... you decide!
Heat up a heavy bottomed pan, cast iron or le creuset-like pan. Once it's warm, heat up your oil, or butter.
Pat the chicken thighs dry, and season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. By getting rid of the moisture you're ensuring a good sear in your hot pan. Well-seasoned meat will season the dish throughout it's cooking period. You then balance the flavors at the end, adjusting for the brightness, salt, pepper and any other notes that you want to stand out.
Sear the chicken thighs in batches, 5-6 at a time. Wait to flip until it has some good color and releases from the pan (as described before). Once done, remove the chicken, continue until all of the chicken is browned.
Add in your onions, cook until they are mostly done (translucent), then add in your garlic and fennel. Cook until these are tender.
Deglaze with the wine. Add in some herbs, artichokes, tomatoes, lemon zest, saffron or spices. Then place the chicken thighs on top. Pour in the chicken stock, I like mine a little brothy so I use the whole 8 cups, sometimes even more. You will lose a little to evaporation, make sure to check the braise ever 15 or so minutes to ensure you still have liquid at the bottom and nothing is sticking.
Continue to cook until the chicken is tender ~45-50 minutes. Season with the lemon juice, fresh herbs, more salt and pepper, if necessary - ENJOY!!
I love to serve this over roasted spaghetti squash, I also toss a ton of baby spinach in at the end of the braise for some greenery! I promise, this will become one of your favorites too!!