How to Boil Water: Braised chicken is the most comforting one-pan meal

How to braise chicken.
(A. Sparrow / For The Times)

With so many of you having to stay home and cook for the first time — ever or more than you have in a long time — we get that it can be overwhelming to have to cook all your meals from scratch. So we’re here to get you started.

Each day we’re going to post a new skill here and go in detail about how to do it — a resource for cooking basics so you can get food on the table and get through this.

A series of simple tutorials for making some basic recipes at home.

March 26, 2020


Lesson 9: Braised Chicken

If I had to pick a side — white meat versus dark meat — dark meat wins every time. (Also, team wings.) Now more than ever, since we’re trying to minimize trips to the store and get more groceries at once, chicken legs or bone-in thighs are a smart cut to freeze for later. Even after thawing, they’ll stay juicy once cooked.

My favorite way to get dark meat fall-apart tender is to braise it. Braising involves slow-simmering a whole or large piece of meat (in this case, bone-in chicken thighs, drumsticks or legs) in just enough liquid to cook the meat through and leave you with some sauce. (Stewing, which involves a lot more liquid and smaller, cut-up meat chunks, is closer to making soup.) Usually, the only downside to braising is that it takes time. But now that you’re home all afternoon, you can start your braise a few hours before dinner, letting it hang out in the oven or on the stove until done. The prep time is quick, the cleanup easy.

Use whatever ingredients you have at hand with these simple steps to create the most comforting one-pot chicken dinner (with bonus leftovers for lunch the next day). Start by turning on your oven hood and heating a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season bone-in chicken thighs or legs or drumsticks all over with salt and pepper. Add enough oil to the hot pan to coat the bottom, then add the chicken skin side down. Cook until the skin is nicely browned, about 5 minutes, then carefully flip the pieces and brown the other side for another 5 minutes or so. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour out excess fat from the pan, if you want. (I leave it in for extra flavor.)

Lower the heat to medium and add aromatics, such as sliced or chopped onion, garlic, shallots, leeks or spring onions. You can use other vegetables too, such as sliced celery or carrot. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Once the aromatics and vegetables have cooked, add liquid to the pan, about 1 cup for every 2 pounds of meat. Dry wine or light-tasting beer like pilsner or lager or light liquor such as cooking sherry, chicken stock or just plain water work. As the liquid bubbles, scrape up any browned bits stuck to the pan, then return the chicken parts and the accumulated juices in a single layer skin side up, nestling them into the vegetables. The cooking liquid should come about halfway up the sides of the meat; bring back to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a steady simmer, cover leaving a tiny gap on one side, and braise until the meat pulls from the bone easily, 35 to 50 minutes, depending on the weight and size of your pieces. At this point, the braise is ready to serve straight from the skillet.

If you want a thicker sauce, transfer the meat to a serving dish and continue boiling the braising liquid until it reduces to your preferred consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then pour the sauce around the meat and serve hot. Braises can get fancy too: You can marinate the chicken first; include more vegetables with the aromatics; add spices, dried herbs or hearty fresh ones; use a blend of liquids; toss in fresh or dried fruit for sweetness; strain the sauce at the end; and on and on. Start with the basics and experiment over time.

You can even add lemons to the pan.
(A. Sparrow / For The TImes)

Beer-Braised Chicken
1 hour. Serves 2 to 4.

Substitute any liquid for the beer; dry white wine or dry sherry work especially well. Crusty bread, rice or potatoes are great for sopping up the sauce.

1 ½ pounds bone-in chicken legs, thighs or drumsticks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
¾ cup beer, preferably pilsner, ale or lager

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the skillet, then add the chicken skin side down. Cook, turning once, until dark golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned around the edges and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the beer and scrape up all the browned bits from the pan.

3. Return the chicken to the pan along with any accumulated juices and nestle the pieces into the vegetables in a single layer skin side up. The liquid should come halfway up the chicken. Once the liquid returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a steady simmer, and cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar. Cook until the meat begins to fall off the bone, 35 to 40 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.