What do we want in a chicken braise or stew? The first thing that comes mind is fork tender meat. The second is finger licking good sauce. Those two are actually quite easy to accomplish, but they produce a somewhat unpleasant by-product -- flabby skin. This pesky little problem has tormented many a cook. Judy Rodgers and Kenji Alt solve it by adding just enough liquid to cover the meat but not the skin. I have tried that method. It's actually quite good, but the crispy skin is short lived. If you make this dish a day ahead and rewarm it (much more convenient in terms of timing), the crispy skin is no more. I have also tried re-crisping the skin in the skillet after braising. A bit of of a hassle, and I am not sure if that skin was worth it. It was ok, but nothing like you get on roast chicken. This got me thinking -- why not just ditch the skin? It's not the centerpiece of this dish, and is not worth jumping through hoops to achieve it. While I was at it, I ditched the bones too. Now I could fit more chicken in the pot and it cooked faster. Don't worry, you don't have to de-bone the thighs yourself. Whole Foods sells skinless boneless chicken thighs. Unlike skinless boneless chicken breasts, they are actually worth buying.
The sauce was inspired by a Spanish onion soup from the Zuni Cafe cookbook. To turn this into a one pot meal, I threw in a can of chickpeas. Ouch, I sound like Rachel Ray. Surprisingly, convenience is not what I was after. I was trying to find the best possible braising technique to teach in my chicken class. After trying everything under the sun, I gave the simplest possible approach a shot and to my surprise, I liked it the most.
If you don't have a Dutch oven, you can get good results in an oven-proof skillet with a tight fitting lid or use a combination of a skillet to brown the chicken and make a sauce and any oven proof dish covered with foil to bake. You can also buy a very inexpensive Dutch oven from Walmart made by Tramontina. That's the one I use.
Chicken Stew with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, and Saffron
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp oil for high heat cooking like grape seed, safflower, or canola
3 large yellow onions, sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves (optional)
A pinch of crumbled saffron threads
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, lightly drained
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 – 1 cup chicken stock
14.5 oz can chickpeas, drained (or 2 cup cooked chickpeas)
1 bay leaf
- Preheat the oven to 300F with the rack in the middle.
- Dry the chicken thoroughly on paper towels. Set a Dutch oven or a 12 inch skillet over high heat. Add the oil and wait for it to get hot (just a hint of smoke). Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan in a single layer and cook without disturbing until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and brown on the other side, about 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt to the skillet. Stir, cover and cook on medium low until onions start to wilt and dissolve the brown bits in the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Uncover the pan, turn up the heat to medium and cook stirring occasionally until onions are tender, golden brown and slightly jammy, about 15 minutes.
- Add garlic and thyme and cook stirring occasionally for 2 minutes.
- Add crumbled saffron, tomatoes, and wine. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes to reduce slightly.
- Add 3/4 cup stock. Return chicken to pot along with its juices. Pour the chickpeas on top and push them into the sauce with a spoon. It’s ok for chickpeas to stick out a bit, but the chicken should be submerged. If it’s not, add a bit more stock. Tuck in a bay leaf. Bring to a simmer. Cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven until chicken is fork tender and shreds easily, about 1 hour.
- Let rest 20 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 5 days and reheated on medium-low heat.