I may or may not have already said this, but this weather is starting to get me a little down. It’s hard to maintain a happy attitude and healthy energy level when it’s always cold and windy and slushy and wet and disgusting outside.
I also may or may not have already said this, but I’ve totally been craving citrus like crazy lately. I normally like to at least attempt to eat seasonally, eating tomatoes at the end of the summer, apples in the fall, and asparagus in the spring, and generally avoiding the stuff shipped in from Peru for the rest of the year. I am certainly not fanatical about it, but most produce honestly just tastes better when it’s fresh and local instead of traveling from across the country or across the world. At this point in winter though, all those good intentions go straight out the window. When I can smell spring coming around the corner I can’t take it anymore and want nothing more than fresh bright summery foods, especially the tropical-ish flavors of citrus. So, you’ll have to forgive me (or maybe thank me) for doing another citrus recipe, this one with lemon, after just doing a soup with a healthy dose of lime.
We recently got the unfortunate news that one of our close friends is moving away to London, so we wanted to have her for dinner to say farewell. I knew I wanted to make something really special, so I thought a rich hearty braised chicken dish was just the ticket. Although I totally love spending my day off braising a roast or stew, sometimes you just need something to come together a little faster. Chicken thighs are a really great way to make it seem like you slaved over a hot stove for half the day, when in reality you threw it together in just over an hour. Chicken thighs are also really inexpensive, packed with amazing flavor, and almost always come out juicy and tender. This meal browns for about 15 minutes on the stove and then spends another 45 minutes in the oven. Including prep time, the whole shebang can be on your plate and in your mouth in 90 minutes or less.
Another little trick to make a meal feel like it cooked all day is to use really bold flavors. I thought the combination of fresh thyme, whole cloves of garlic, and salty capers would be perfect here. To cut the briney saltiness of the capers and the fattiness of the chicken, a healthy dose of crisp white wine and the zest of a whole lemon help make this dish taste really special. I think that the bright citrus-y notes of Sauvignon Blanc work really well, but you can use whatever you like to drink or whatever you already have in the house.
I adapted this recipe from one I found in Food & Wine, and while the recipe was amazing and I made only a few small changes, there was something about it that I found a bit strange. The original recipe said to use a large cast iron skillet to cook the entire meal. While the size and shape of a large skillet would lend well to this dish, I would never recommend slow cooking acidic meals in seasoned cast iron. Since this only cooks for an hour it’s not the end of the world, but acidic ingredients like wine and lemon can eat away at the seasoning in cast iron, which can not only negatively affect the function of your pan, but can also give your meal a slight metallic taste. The best option for this dish would be a large enameled skillet or enameled dutch oven without the lid. If you don’t have enameled cookware, you can also use a high-walled heavy stainless steel skillet, or any non-reactive, oven-safe and stovetop-safe pan that’s large enough.
Whatever you choose to cook this dish, you’ll be so glad that you made it. It has such a wonderfully rich and robust flavor. The wine adds a subtle sweetness and, along with the lemon, a bright fruitiness. The garlic, capers, and thyme add an earthy richness and a depth that tastes like it took several hours to build. After only an hour of cooking, the chicken thighs are tender, moist, and practically slide off the bone. Is your mouth watering yet?
Depending on how many you’re feeding and the size of your chicken pieces, you can use between 4 and 8 thighs. Larger thighs should be plenty for one person, but if your thighs are small you might want to serve two pieces per person. Either way, the remaining ingredients can be left in the same amounts. You’ll just have a little extra sauce if you make fewer pieces. The sauce is amazing, so I promise it won’t go to waste. You can serve this with whatever you like, but I thought it paired perfectly with Basmati rice and roasted broccoli, with a little slice of fresh lemon and a glass (or bottle) of white wine. I just tossed the broccoli with olive oil, lemon, and salt and pepper, and roasted it on a parchment lined sheet pan at the same time that the chicken braised.
Braised Chicken Thighs with White Wine, Lemon, & Capers
4-8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin (depending on how many you’re feeding)
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 or 7 peeled garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups dry white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 bay leaf
Preheat the oven to 375°. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with flour. In a large dutch oven or ovenproof skillet (not raw cast iron), melt the butter. Add the chicken, skin side down first, and cook over high heat until browned, turning over once, for a total of 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate, add the garlic cloves and cook over low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and thyme, turn heat up to high, and boil until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Peel the zest (avoiding the white pith) of the lemon using a vegetable peeler. Try to pull the largest strips possible. Add the lemon zest, stock, capers and bay leaf and bring back up to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up. Transfer the pan, uncovered, to the oven and braise for 45 minutes, or until the meat is fork tender.
Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the chicken to a plate, and tent with foil. Transfer the pan to the stovetop and boil over high heat until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Discard the thyme, bay leaf and lemon zest, and spoon the sauce over the chicken to serve.