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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mediterranean Braised Chicken


This slow-simmered chicken dish boasts flavors of Spain and Italy. Capers, olives, and sherry vinegar make it a bit sour; a touch of honey adds a little sweetness; and a roasted red pepper adds a subtle hint of smoke in this well-balanced one-pot meal.

I used a whole chicken, cut into 6 pieces, but you could also make it with 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs. Season your chicken 24 to 48 hours in advance if you can, and bring it to room temperature before you cook it.

I have a pot of fresh bay in my window and I just pick a leaf every time I need one. If you don't have fresh bay, you can substitute a dried bay leaf (or two if they are losing their potency). I added a green bird chili for some heat, but you could substitute any fresh chili pepper or a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes.

You can use any kind of eggplant you like, a globe eggplant, a couple of the long, skinny Japanese variety, or several baby eggplants if you can find them. The outer layer is a good source of antioxidants, so I didn't peel it.

For the braising liquid, I used dry white wine, but you could substitute a dry red or even water. If you use wine, make sure it's something you would drink, like part of the bottle you're planning to serve with this meal.

If you're on a detox, omit the honey and substitute zucchini for carrots.

  • 6 chicken thighs (skin-on, bone-in) or 1 whole chicken cut into 6 pieces, pre-seasoned with sea salt, at room temperature
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 6 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch slices
  • 3 large celery stalks, diced into small pieces
  • 1 medium eggplant, peel intact, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 28 ounces chopped tomatoes and their juices
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup wine or water
  • 1 roasted red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup green pitted olives
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1 fresh chili pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons honey (optional)
  • Freshly ground peppercorn
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Over medium-high heat warm a cast iron or stainless steel Dutch oven or deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Once the dry pan is very hot, add the chicken pieces skin-side down. Do not move them until they brown and render some fat. Once this happens, they will naturally pull away from the bottom of the pan. Flip them over, reduce the heat to medium, and brown the other sides. Take the time to really develop color on both sides because it also develops a deep, complex, savory flavor. As the chicken pieces finish browning, transfer them to a plate. 
  3. Once the chicken pieces have been browned and set aside, add the onion, celery, carrots, and eggplant to the pan. Continue cooking until they soften and start to brown, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the vinegar, tomatoes, and sea salt. Stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. 
  5. Stir in the wine (or water), roasted red pepper, olives, capers, chili pepper, bay leaf, honey, and pepper. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and nestle them skin-side up into the vegetable mixture. Cover and transfer the pot to the oven for one hour. After 15 minutes, check to make sure that it's simmering gently. If it isn't, adjust the oven temperature accordingly.
  6. After the chicken has been in the oven for an hour, remove the cover so the skin can crisp and the sauce can reduce. Return it to the oven for another 30 minutes. 
  7. Transfer the chicken to a serving plate. Remove the bay leaf from the vegetable mixture. Grate the garlic directly into the pot and stir it in. Reserve a bit of parsley and thyme for garnish, then stir in the rest. Taste it for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments. 
  8. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a serving platter (or individual plates) and arrange the chicken on top. Garnish with the reserved herbs and serve immediately.

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