Those who know me know I love a good hearty braise. I have written about braising on this blog on at least five separate occasions. It is one of those fundamental cooking techniques wherein you take something cheap and make it taste like a million bucks. I like to think that I have mastered it to the point where I can mess around with it and know that I’m still going to get good results. Plus, there are almost always leftovers. Never a bad thing, in my book.
At the market on Sunday (a glorious sunny morning) I bought some girolles with no set plan for them. As we wandered along, discussing what we had in the fridge at home (tarragon), and what to buy to complement those things, Nick came up with something that sounded delicious: braised chicken with tarragon and girolles. I thought that I could work in the fennel bulb I knew was lurking in the bottom of the vegetable drawer, and agreed to the dish, despite the not-at-all-braise-worthy weather. Since it was so nice out, we decided to put that one off and bought some excellent Norwegian salmon for dinner that night.
Later that afternoon, the sky clouded over and rain began to fall. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to go to a butcher on Monday, Nick and I went up the street to a butcher shop we had never visited before. The chickens roasting in the rotisserie outside were some of the best I’ve seen, so we went in to get some cuisses de poulet. Literally “chicken thighs,” these are inevitably whole chicken leg quarters. Not a problem, just a bit unwieldy. At 2 euros a kilo, though, who’s complaining?
So Monday night, which was just as dismal as Sunday afternoon, I began my Spring-y chicken braise. First step: brown the skin.
Next step: get the meat out of there to make room for the vegetables. In this case, diced fennel and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to pick up all the deliciousness residing there. While the vegetables cook, remove the skin from the chicken. (This is much easier when you’re just working with thighs.) It occurred to me at this point that a bit of Dijon mustard would go really well with everything else in the dish, so I plopped in a spoonful of mustard and stirred to make sure it wasn’t going t be in one big lump. And then it’s time to add the liquid. I have run out of chicken stock, so I used half water and half white wine, and another good pinch of salt. Nestle the meat in with the vegetables and liquid, and bring the whole thing up to a simmer.
I also stuffed a couple sprigs of fresh tarragon in there – let’s not forget the inspiration for the dish. Once it’s simmering, reduce the heat (for me, this means moving the pot to a completely different burner, but that’s my quirky stove), slap the lid on the pot, and leave it alone for an hour and a half or so. (Longer if you’re braising beef or lamb – yes, it does require a little planning ahead.)
Meanwhile, for this particular braise, I began preparing the mushrooms. You didn’t forget about those, did you? Maybe a picture will help:
Ah, there they are! With such a beautiful, delicate thing as fresh wild mushrooms, I don’t want to mess with them too much. These I simply sautéed in a little butter, adding chopped tarragon at the end.
I also began thinking that it might be a good idea to throw some rice in with the braising liquid, in the spirit of the one-pot meal. So at the one hour mark, I stirred in some long-grain rice and let it all cook together for 20 minutes. At this point the chicken was pretty much falling apart, so I helped it along and removed the bones. (A totally unnecessary step, but I have a thing about not having to work for my food once I’m at the table. I’ll put in extra effort beforehand if it means that all I have to do is move fork to mouth and savor. This is the reason that I don’t like chicken wings, for example. Or unpeeled shrimp. But I digress.) I folded in the girolles and let it all meld for about 10 more minutes while I cleaned up a bit and got the plates out.
And when all was said and done…
It was an unqualified success.