Cilantro Braised Chicken

This is a simple variation on basic braised chicken. By changing the herbs and spices and some of the aromatics, you can take this dish from Mexico and the American South West to the Middle East or even South East Asia. Typically, braised chicken would be sautéed first to brown, and then liquid is added, the pot is covered and cooked in the oven until done. This is the method I learned at Chez Panisse and is so simple. Simmer the chicken covered, skin down in liquid, and after 30 minutes, turn the chicken so the skin is above the surface of the liquid and cook, uncovered, until browned on top (about 15 minutes) and serve. This recipe is made with legs because that is what was used, but you can use any parts you want with fine results. If you used all wings, though, you might wish to cut back the time to keep the meat from falling off the bone. Although the recipe seems long, it is not really. It also gives you meat and veg in one dish and can be assembled and cooked in about an hour. Excellent when cooked a day ahead and re-heated.

INGREDIENTS:

4 chicken legs, thigh and drumstick separated, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1 pound carrots, peeled or scrubbed (6-8 medium(, cut on the diagonal into 1/2 inch coins
4 celery stalks, trimmed, washed, and de-stringed, cut on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves separated, stems washed thoroughly, 1/4 cup tops washed and dried thoroughly
1/2 tablespoon coriander seed
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed
Water (or stock,beer or white wine) as needed
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed, powdered
1/2 inch stick Mexican cinnamon or small pinch powdered
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:

For this dish, it is easiest if you have a pan you can sauté in and then put directly in the oven that has a tight fitting lid. If not, you will need a sauté pan and a casserole or gratin dish that will hold all the chicken in a single snug layer that can be covered in foil.

METHOD:

Heat the oven to 425°F.

Place the cilantro stems, 1 clove of garlic, and 2 cups of water in a blender. Liquefy for at least one minute. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and reserve.

Using a stovetop-to-oven pan with a lid, heat pan over medium heat. Film the pan with oil, and when hot, add the carrots flat side down. Cook to color the carrots, then stir to get lightly caramelize the other side. Cook just until the carrots are light golden, and do not let them soften much. When the carrots pick up some color, push them to the perimeter of the pan and add a little oil if the pan seems fairly dry. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Mince the remaining two cloves of garlic. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Toss in the celery and stir to combine. Add the spices.

Lay the chicken into the pan, skin side down. Add the cilantro water to the pan, and then use the liquid of your choice to bring up the liquid so it comes 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the chicken.

Turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover tightly and place in the oven in the middle and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Remove the top and use tongs to turn the chicken skin side up and make sure it is above the surface of the liquid. Return to the oven and cook 15 minutes more or until the tops is golden and crisp.

Remove from the oven and allow a few minutes to cool. Serve as is, or remove the chicken to a platter and strain the liquid into a pot. Scatter the vegetables around the chicken and boil the liquid down to a sauce like consistency and serve on the side. Scatter cilantro leaves on the dish before serving.

Chef’s Notes:

This is a great dish for planning ahead. You can cook the chicken up to the point where you turn it over to finish it, and then strain it. Allow to cool at room temperature and then refrigerate the vegetables and chicken separately. Strain the sauce into a container and refrigerate over night with the rest of the dish. Before serving, skim off the solidified fat and discard, then reheat the liquid and simmer to reduce to a sauce-like consistency. To finish the dish, allow the chicken and vegetables to come to room temperature and place in an oven-proof dish, chicken skin-side up on top. Add a little of the hot “sauce” to the pan to moisten the vegetables and drizzle a little on the chicken. Season with salt and pepper (the salt will help the skin to crisp.) and place in a pre-heated 425°F oven until heated through and golden. This should take about 20 minutes.

  • Adding olives and cumin to the dish will take it to North Africa.
  • Add a couple stalks of lemon grass and a dash of fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam) and you have something with a Southeast Asian twist.
  • Feel free to add hot green chilis such as jalapeno or serranos for heat, or use colorful Thai chilis if you like it hot.

YIELD: Serves 4

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