October 21, 2008
After a sun-saturated Saturday and a Sunday awash with golden and crimson leaves, the yang to fall’s much more lovely yin has arrived in force. Every morning this week, I’ve needed not only a coat but a scarf too. What was once a pleasant waltz from the train to the gym in the morning has become a hunched speed walk into the wind, my head withdrawn turtle-like into my upturned collar. The previously sweeping view from my office—a little sliver of the lake here, a slice of the Sears Tower there—has been socked in by fog and driving rain. I even found myself leaving work on Monday, caught in a dreary rain storm: without an umbrella. All of this is to say: it’s time, friends, to braise.
If there is an upshot to nasty weather and grim skies and a perpetual chill it is ensconcing oneself in a cozy home and sweeping away the elements with a slow cooked, homey meal that sends clouds of roasty smells into the air, while the hot oven inches the room temperature up a blissful degree or two. It’s an intense craving for just this brand of comfort that keeps me coming back to braises all the livelong fall and winter.
I’ve got a dependable stable of braises all stocked up for winter, but it’s small and I’ve decided to use the less-than-lovely fall (pre-winter?) days to audition new additions to the roster. It’s my kitchen version of baseball’s spring training, you could say: I’m scouting the promising recipes from the farm system. I’ve had my eye on a number of prospects: hearty greens, tiny Brussels sprouts, tough cuts of beef, meaty pieces of fish, even some forays into new-to-me realms like lamb shanks.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
This recipe for braised chicken sat at the very top of the heap. The inclusion of leisurely cooked onions—another one of my very favorite cold weather staples—all but guaranteed this recipe’s success. And the onions were indeed spectacular—cooked into a nearly disintegrating, jammy tangle. And the chicken was tender and succulent, stewed in a savory potion of sage-and-bay-laced apple cider.
It’s safe to say this recipe will feature prominently this braising season. In fact, it’s a clear front runner for rookie of the year. For now, that is. Because braising season is still young.
Adapted from Food & Wine
1 tablespoon pure or extra-virgin olive oil
4 whole chicken legs or bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large Spanish onions, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
4 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 1/2 cups apple cider
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 400°. Heat oil in a large skillet. Season the chicken with salt and black pepper. Add the chicken to the skillet, skin side down, and cook over moderately high heat until the skin is crisp and browned, about 8 minutes. Turn and cook for 3 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet or large platter, skin side up.
Add the onions to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the sage, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden and starting to stick to the bottom of the skillet, about 5 minutes. Add the apple cider to the skillet and simmer over moderately high heat until the cider is syrupy, about 25 minutes. Add the vinegar to the pan and simmer for 2 minutes. Season lightly with salt and black pepper. Stir stock and parsley into the skillet. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.
Transfer the onion sauce to a large roasting pan. Arrange the chicken in the sauce, skin side up. Set the roasting pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 350°. Roast the chicken until cooked through, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a platter. Set the roasting pan over high heat and boil the sauce until the liquid is reduced, about 10 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and serve with the chicken.