So when my Partner in Grime offered to cook me dinner the other night, I was not going to say no. He had some chicken, some veggies, a big cast iron skillet with lid and some herbs. Plus the man knew how to braise.
Braising is a good way to prepare a cheap cut of meat and often the one people are the least experienced with. Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot. The best equipment to use would be a pressure cooker or heavy Dutch oven, or, in many kitchens, simply big cast iron pan with a heavy metal lid that may not seal tightly, but it covers.
The basic steps involve seasoning, sauteing the meat lightly in a bit of oil or butter until brown, deglazing the pan with broth, stock or juice, stirring up the browned bits, adding cooking liquid and then finishing in the oven until it's completely tender (for large cuts of meat, such as cheaper cuts of roast this can range from 1 to several hours).
For braising chicken, the best cuts of chicken are the legs and thighs, preferably on the bone with skin on so you get the connective tissue and fat that will make the dish really savory. There's no need to braise boneless, skinless breasts, they will do much better grilled or just sauteed.
Braising is a good way to use up cheaper cuts of meat. If you have a local butcher, see about leftover pieces from a specialty cut or the dismantling of a whole bird to give another shopper some chicken breasts. They often will have some and sell to you at a reduced cost if there's not enough to make up a big "family pack". Also check the "reduced" section. Such items, if cooked right away are still quite good and often heavily discounted.
You've all seen those prepacked dinners that can be made quickly. Most are full of artificial ingredients and tons of sodium, and run up to $10.00 or more. You can make something 10 times more tasty for less than half of that, if you shop carefully, and get veggies and other staples in family packs or bulk. Even better, put your best Semaphore Code "tablecloth", some candles and place mats and enjoy a meal that's not eaten in your car or in front of the TV.
Tonight's posted recipe is a slight adaption of the traditional method, using bacon fat in addition to the oil to sear the meat and using less liquid, so that the veggies maintain a bit of crispness as the meat cooks off til it's fall off the bone tender.
Start with chicken pieces. It was going to be a light supper so a thigh and a leg per person. Before prep, the pieces should be rinsed and patted dry.
Brown 2-3 large pieces of double smoked bacon in a cast iron skillet. Remove and set aside. The bacon fat from that is just the perfect amount for the pan with a splash of good quality olive oil. Add the oil to the bacon fat, stirring up the brown bacon bits. Add chicken pieces with the heat on medium high. Cook skin side down for 5-6 minutes (more if really big pieces) until lightly brown, flip and remove and keep warm. In the same pan add the onion, Cook, stirring in the drippings until softened but not caramelized (you want a bit of bite to it still). Add to that was a good splash or three of balsamic vineger (Artesano's 18 year old, incredible stuff) and some chopped thyme.
This is different than traditional braising that fully simmers the bigger cuts of meat in a lot of broth. For this recipe, you don't need to as it keeps the onions perfectly cooked with a texture and taste that's more roasted than boiled. Place in preheated hot (roughly 400 F.) oven for 20 minutes, until no pink remains in the meat. Throw in a a couple nice baked potatoes, partially cooked in the microwave (4-6 minutes depending on size) and then wrapped in foil and placed in with the covered pan to finish cooking with the chicken..
When done, rub the potatoes with a tiny bit of olive oil and course sea salt and serve with fresh butter and the chopped bacon as well as some steamed veggies to which you added only white pepper. I've had more photogenic meals but few that were as tasty for a "budget" minded chef.
That leaves enough money for a replacement 710 Cap.