Summer seems to finally be fading away, making room for longer nights and fuzzy sweater weather. Lately, when I look out the window despite the clear sunny skies during the day, darkness seems to fall earlier and earlier, another sign that autumn is creeping up on us. One of our friends house-sat and more importantly pooch-sat for us and with the forecast fortelling nippy lows in the 40s it was a great time to bust out those hearty dishes that make you go “Mmmmm.” Despite the title, this recipe is pretty quick and easy, it misses the <40 minutes cut off by a mere 12 minutes but most of the cooking time is just letting it simmer in peace while you wash dishes, fold laundry, read a book…. Sounds pretty relaxing, no? So in preparation for the pooch nanny's arrival, a Tuscan style dinner was made to facilitate all that cool weather snuggling. Now, I know it seems crazy to talk about braising chicken so that it's falling off the bone tender in under an hour but I'm serious and no pressure cookers where harmed or even involved in the making of this meal. For reals. So how do you do it? Well, there might be a little finagling involved like using canned white beans instead of soaking them overnight but for the most part, it's fairly straightforward. My largesse of ripe cherry tomatoes contributes half of the tomato-y goodness but even if you don't have a cache of sweet little tomatoes you can still get that tangy flavor that helps cut through the richness of those creamy white beans. If you don't already have them in your pantry and you like to cook with Mediterranean flavors, splurge the $8 to get some cider vinegar and tomato paste, they'll turn sad, bland canned tomatoes into a piquant sauce that tastes fresh and vibrant. The sweetly sour vinegar and the intense tomato flavor of the paste will make a believer out of you yet 🙂
Easy peasy helpful hints:
1) Why bother to brown chicken that you’re going to braise in sauce anyway? You know, I always wondered about that too but if you think about it, it’s not just a conspiracy to make you do more work. Browning meat brings out the flavor by causing something called the Maillard reaction named after a French chemist that discovered that if you cook anything (meat, bread, vegetables…) that has sugar and proteins in it between the temperatures of 300-500F, you get a browning effect that creates that delicious “browned” flavor by creating aromatic compounds (like ketones) as well as color changes that combined together alters the smell, taste, and appearance of food. Just as boiling doesn’t provide much flavor because it doesn’t bring the temperature of food much past 212F, broiling chicken brings out the sugars and add more flavor even without seasoning than poaching it. So if you’ve noticed that your slow-cooker recipes lack the punch of cooking with a Dutch oven on the stove and then finishing it in the oven, this is probably why. For a great discussion on the Maillard reaction, check out Khymos a fascinating blog by Martin Lersch, an organic chemist with a interest in molecular gastronomy.
2) Why leave in the bones? Just like how soup bones add marrow-y flavor to broth, the bones here contribute to the sauce. Of course, if you can’t get bone-in thighs, you can add a tsp or cube of stock concentrate.
3) For a leaner option, remove the skin from the thighs. Since they are braised in the sauce, not only will they lose their crispetyness, there’s also a lot of fat hiding under that now soggy skin. I actually removed my skin after I had braised the chicken because, um, I forgot to do it earlier.
4) I prefer tomato paste in a tube rather than a can. Why? Cuz the tube variety lasts longer, it’s tiny–you can keep it in the refrigerator door for months, and you don’t have to worry about the acidic tomato leaching those metallic flavors from the can.
5) Why coat the chicken with flour (or corn starch if cooking gluten-free)? This will serve as a thickening agent for your sauce as well as adding a flavor crust for your browning step.
2 strips bacon, diced
6 bone-in chicken thighs
2 tbsp all-purpose flour (substitute corn starch if you’re cooking gluten-free)
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1 medium-sized sweet onion, diced
3 tsp (3 cloves) crushed garlic
1/4 c full-bodied red wine (I used Pinot noir)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 c cherry tomatoes (or a second 14.5 oz can tomatoes, 1 tsp cider vinegar and 1 tsp 1 tsp tomato paste)
1 small summer squash ~1 c,skin removed and diced
1 tbsp fresh (1 tsp dried) basil, chopped
1/4 tbsp fresh (1/4 tsp dried) thyme, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 14.5 oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed
Cook bacon in a large 4-5 quart Dutch oven or pot over med-hi heat till crispy, ~ 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Season chicken with salt and pepper and coat with flour (I sprinkle it with flour then pat it on) then brown in the bacon fat ~ 3 minutes per side. Just plop the chicken down and sip your favorite cocktail while heroically avoiding the temptation to move it around. It will brown beautifully without any attention ;). Remove chicken from pot and set aside.
Reduce heat to med-lo and sauté onions and garlic till soft and golden ~ 4 minutes. Deglaze pot with wine using a spatula or spoon to scrape off the delicious browned Maillarded bits. **If you’re using a slow-cooker, now’s the time to transfer everything to the slow-cooker including the browned bits. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and cider vinegar if not using cherry tomatoes, squash, basil, thyme, 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.
Bring to a boil then add chicken and any associated juices back to pot. Cover pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Mix in beans, cover, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Snuggle your favorite person/pet while giving a brief nod to Louis-Camille Maillard and the return of autumn. Serves 6.