Last weekend, we visited friends in Charlotte, NC. Before leaving New Hampshire, I was instructed to pack a sweater because it gets “chilly” there at night. I stepped out the first night in a dress, tights, boots, and a wool scarf wrapped tightly around my neck (in lieu of a sweater). My friend was wearing jeans and a tank top, and was clutching a light cotton sweater, an outfit much more appropriate for the 70 degree weather we were experiencing. Sweat beading on my forehead, I ran back inside to change.
Clearly, “chilly” has entirely different meanings depending on your locale. I now realize that most of the country is not waking up on forty-degree mornings with cold toes and red noses because they forgot to close the windows when they went to bed the night before. But in my reality, there’s a bite in the air and all I can think about is braising.
Braising is one of my favorite cooking methods. You throw meat and vegetables in one pot and let them cook, virtually undisturbed, while you move onto other more important things like coloring and gluing. An hour later, you have tender meat swimming in an aromatic sauce; delicious and easy for the little ones to handle and chew.
I have probably made this particular Chicken Cacciatore recipe one hundred times. Composed of chicken thighs, mushrooms, tomatoes and rosemary, it’s my go-to whenever I do a trial for potential clients, and it’s always a huge crowd-pleaser.
The warmth from the pot takes away the chill in the air, which is clearly not yet an issue south of the Mason-Dixon (Southerners: revisit in January). The heady aroma of the rosemary in this dish is like a Christmas pine potpourri, a harbinger of snow-filled treks and holiday feasts.The sauce is flavorful and velvety so I like to showcase it over something plain like egg noodles, Israeli couscous, polenta, or mashed potatoes. Serve alongside roasted broccoli for a satisfying autumn meal.
The original recipe, called Hunter’s Chicken Stew hails from a September/October 2008 recipe in Eating Well magazine. It’s so well-balanced and delicious that I haven’t tinkered much with the ingredients, and only a little with the cooking method. It takes about an hour of prep work and an hour of (mostly unsupervised) cooking time, so it’s a good option for Sunday dinner when you (hopefully) have a little more time to spare. The batch serves 8 to 10, so it’s also great for a casual dinner party. It reheats well, so if I’m not feeding a crowd, I freeze half of it for another meal.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 12 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 grinds black pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine or vermouth
- 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
- 1 ½ pounds button or white mushrooms, quartered
- 4 plum tomatoes, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- Preheat a 5 or 6-qt Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the flour, chicken thighs, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to a sealable plastic bag. Shake until the chicken is coated with flour.
- When the pan is hot, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and several chicken thighs to the pan, with enough room that none of the thighs are touching (probably 4 or five pieces). Sauté for three to four minutes a side, until they turn golden brown. If the flour that settles in the bottom of the pan starts to turn dark brown, lower the heat in the pan. When both sides are golden brown, remove chicken to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
- Once all of the chicken is browned, add the onions to the empty pan and sauté on medium heat, until translucent but not brown (approximately 8 minutes). You may notice from the following picture that I used red AND yellow onions (good catch R!). Would I have used only yellow ones if I had remembered to buy enough of them? Yes. Was the dish just as delicious with the red onion? Yes. So, use whatever onions you have in the house, just use the equivalent of three medium-sized ones. Next, add the garlic, and cook another two minutes.
- Turn the heat to medium-high, and add the wine, scraping up the browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Allow the alcohol to boil off, 2 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes, mushrooms, bay leaves, and rosemary.
- Stir to combine, then add the chicken and any accumulated juices. It will be a tight fit at first, until the mushrooms and tomatoes start to release liquid. Just make sure that each piece of chicken is partially submerged in the braising liquid.
- Place the lid partially over the top of the pan, and simmer, stirring only a few times, and making sure to scrape the bottom to make sure nothing is sticking. Cook 45 minutes to an hour, or until the chicken is tender.
- Gently remove the chicken from the pot and cover to keep warm. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and boil the sauce for ten minutes, or until it thickens. Add salt (1/2 to 1 teaspoon) and pepper to taste, return the chicken to the pan and stir in the fresh basil. Serve over your favorite starch or grain, with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
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