Braising is cooking in liquid with the lid on. In Britain, they braise lettuce (seriously). But braising is great for slow cooking vegetables and for meat you want to be past-a-doubt tender and flavorful. So I thought I’d post how to braise a chicken.
Of course, supermarket chicken is always tender. Those birds don’t run up and down the landscape where they’re raised, so their muscles are soft. Those chickens are fed a diet guaranteed to build muscle-mass they will never use. And when they’re dead, that poultry is injected with salt and other little bits-and-bobs to further tenderize it.
Braising is not a necessary, or even desirable, technique for preparing such birds. Their flesh is likely to fall apart like wet tissue paper under the treatment I’m recommending here. But if you can find a free-ranging, local bird at a co-op, or natural foods store, or farmers market that would be the right chicken for the job at hand.
Make a stock with the backs and wing-tips and the skin you remove from your chicken carcasses. Don’t forget to add lots of alliums (onions, leeks, shallots and garlic) and some aromatics (peppercorns, bay leaves, celery stalks, parsley, carrots, mushroom stalks and peels). Simmer, don’t boil, or the stock will taste mostly of bones. So get your stock started first, and have a dutch oven getting hot with several tablespoons of fat in it.
Braised Chicken Theory
2 chickens, cut into legs, thighs, wings, and each breast in two–so that they all get done together.
1 cup flour or potato starch
salt and pepper
fat or drippings
2 large onions, or a handful of shallots, or 2 bulbs of garlic, or 3 leeks–peeled and sliced fine
2 cups wine, white or red or pink–still or bubbly, or cider, or 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 1/2 cups water
3 TBSP tomato paste
3-4 cups stock
(Hot or bell peppers, sliced or if the hot peppers are small, whole)
2 lbs of root vegetables, turnips and/or potatoes and/or carrots and/or parsnips and/or rutabagas cut into 3/4″ chunks
Season the cup of flour or starch with salt and pepper. Coat the skinless chicken pieces in this and put them in a single layer in the bottom of the dutch oven, which is at medium to medium high heat. Let the chicken cook for 4-5 minutes, until it slides easily and is beginning to brown. Turn it for another four minutes. Set the chickens in your crock pot, or on a plate, and do another batch until all your chicken has been browned.
Add more fat to the dutch oven and cook your alliums until tender and beginning to take color. Place the alliums with the chicken pieces (sauté the peppers now, if you’re using them) and deglaze the dutch oven with the wine or vinegar-water. Let this reduce to about 1/3rd. If you’re using the dutch oven, add the tomato paste, the alliums (peppers) and chicken, and the stock to the pan. Put the lid on and set it in an oven preheated to 325°. If you’re using a slow cooker, set it on ‘high’ and add all those ingredients listed for the dutch oven. Let this cook for two to four hours.
1 1/2 hours before you want to eat, add the root veggies and allow the dish to continue cooking. Correct the seasoning and serve. This makes lots, because everyone will want to eat lots of this.