What do you make on a lazy Sunday afternoon when it’s grey ‘n misty out? A rustic braise, of course!
Rustic essentially means that I feel lazy and just want to chop, cut, and cook hunter-style then later tonight, eat like one – in a big bowl with a generous hand torn wedge of crusty-chewy bread and wash it down with a couple of glasses of a rich dry red wine. Serious comfort food my friends.
So many variations on this dish – Provençal style would include olives and herbs de Provençe, Italian style would be seasoned with oregano and use white wine (like chicken Cacciatore), Spanish style would perhaps include chorizo and spiked with dry sherry, Persian style would be seasoned with advieh (Persian mixed spice) and include potatoes, Turkish style would like include eggplants, Syrian style – zucchini, parsley, and cilantro and served with yogurt. Well, you get the point. Make it however you like, any which way will work because when you use the key technique for this or any braised dish, the end results will be a satisfying bowl of thick dense saucy goodness.
It’s this simple (key technique steps):
- Mise en place – in French for everything in its place. Clean and organize your work space, wash, peel, chop, and get all your ingredients in order before you start cooking. Remember during cooking, stay organized, if you take out the salt from the cupboard, put it back right after. Another sign of a good chef is a clean kitchen both during and after cooking. It’s project management in action!
- Mix olive oil or butter with some vegetable oil. Both the olive oil and butter have a high smoke point, the vegetable oil will balance that out, so you don’t end up burning or smoking the oil when cooking on high heat.
- For a golden sear, your heat level should be at a medium-high.
- Always place “presentation side” or face down first, to sear – and for goodness sake, do not poke the pieces to see if they’re done. If you poke and the chicken seems stuck, that’s because a.) the chicken’s not cooked yet, or b.) the pan isn’t hot enough. Make sure you get the pan nice and hot, then place the pieces face down, then let it do its thing. When it’s ready, it will easily separate from the pan. When the latter is done, turn it over, and do the same thing…practice patience…have a sip of wine.
- Once fully seared, remove pieces from the pan. Turn heat down to medium to get started with the next step.
- Remember to layer your salt and pepper throughout the cooking process – a bit of each, as you layer the ingredients. This will allow your braise to develop flavors gradually and absorb during the entire cooking process.
- Add your aromatics, along with the vegetables with the least amount of water first to get a nice caramelization going. The more liquid the vegetable has, the higher the water content, which means it will end up steaming rather than caramelizing. So if you have carrots, celery, onions…then you start with the carrots (least liquid), caramelize them, then add your celery and onions. If you cook the onions and celery before the carrots, your base in the pan will be moist so the carrots won’t have a chance to get golden and release their natural sugars.
- Once you caramelize your base, add your grated garlic. Adding the garlic too early will end up burning it rather than aromatizing the base.
- Now add some tomato paste to the base, and cook it through until the base turns a deep red. This means the moisture has minimized (au sec – French term meaning dry).
- Once your base is au sec, add your deglaze pleasure, in this case, red wine. Allow the alcohol in the wine to evaporate.
- Add your liquid base – tomatoes with their juice, and B2B (bring to boil).
- Add your chicken pieces back in the pan; tuck them gently into the bubbling sauce.
- Adjust your heat to yield a happy simmer – not too low and not too high. Half cover the pan – you want to help evaporate some liquid to reduce your sauce to the sexy consistency. Redux is a magical thing.
- Season to taste before serving.
That simple. Seriously, you practice this a few times and get the hang of it, you’ll be making magic with any combination.
Rustic hunter-style braised chicken in red wine, tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers
Splash of olive oil
Splash of vegetable oil
10 chicken thighs, skins removed (or not)
Sprigs of thyme and oregano
2 cups mixed mushrooms
1 carrot, small dice
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, small dice
8 garlic cloves, germs removed, grated
¼ cup tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine, or more if you like
2 cans plum tomatoes with juice, San Marzano preferred, hand crushed
Basil leaves, hand torn
1 red bell pepper, julienne
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, julienne
Heat oil on medium-high. Place chicken thighs face down first; sear on both sides. Remove from pan; set aside.
Turn heat down to medium, add aromatics and carrots. Caramelize carrots. Add mushrooms and caramelize. Add onions and celery. Cook until onions become translucent. Add the grated garlic, cook until the scent of garlic is bloomed.
Add the tomato paste, au sec. Deglaze with red wine; cook until alcohol evaporates.
Add the tomatoes with juice with some basil leaves. B2B.
Turn heat down to low-medium. Add the peppers and gently place the chicken thighs back into the sauce, half cover, and allow to cook for another 45 minutes or until chicken meat easily pulls apart.
Serve with some good crusty rustic wedge of bread, a bottle of rich dry red wine and a fresh toss of mixed greens gently coated with a red-wine vinaigrette.
Bon appètit et bonne vie!