My favorite meals are the ones that are simple but interesting to cook, and comforting but exciting to eat. The dishes that grant a few precious minutes of hands-off time to sit down, relax, chat with loved ones, or just sip a glass of wine before tucking into dinner. I especially like learning a new technique and many ways of applying it to my favorite ingredients.
Braising is a fairly new cooking skill for me. My mother uses the technique often and well, in her epic stews and carrot and meat tsimmes, but I never seemed to pick up on it. The hardest part is searing the meat. I am impatient, you see, and under-sear the meat. The impatience adds up with my chronic assumption that the cooking is taking too long. I end up with soggy but dry meat and heartbreak (and wine intake) takes over.
The answer is chicken!
I assembled my favorite flavors – shallot, onion, and garlic; and pungent salty things like anchovy and capers. I picked some fresh oregano from our planter box. I selected an alcoholic beverage to sip… er… add to the braising liquid – usually wine but in this case (getting rid of chametz before Passover) a super strong, dark barley wine.
Our local butcher occasionally has lamb bacon, a whole new flavor-profile for me. I chopped a few thick slices into chunks to add smokiness and glorious fat to the braise.
Everything else being ready and in its place, I began the searing. I repeated my mantra “Leave it in. Crispy skin. Leave it in. Crispy skin” and when the searing was over, the chicken looked good enough to eat.
The braising liquid came together quickly, and I settled the beautiful chicken legs on top of it. The whole pot went into the oven, as did a tray of cauliflower, and I sat down, put my feet up, and drank the rest of the barley wine.
The meat was tender and flavorful, the sauce plentiful and full of my favorite umami-infused things, and the cauliflower soaked it all up.
The best part of braising is using my enameled cast iron dutch oven. Her name is Hot Mama, she is gloriously red, sturdy, and up for culinary adventure! This one was a birthday gift from a lovely friend, and I adore it so much. I love the romance of presenting food in such a beautiful and practical pot. The Le Creuset version is stunning, but very much out of my budget. The Sweet Home (a fantastic consumer goods review site) named the Lodge version the best on the market due to the quality and price.
Passover is coming! If you want to make something like this for Passover, just use wine instead of the barley wine!