Here’s a really easy braise to toss together for a group – or for two meals for a family of 4 or 5. Although it works well with pasta, I often serve it with crusty Italian bread, which you can dip into the sauce.
I get tired of plain old roasted chicken breasts, and a braise with wine provides richness and complexity.
Braising is often my cooking method of choice. As long as you have a protein that lends itself to braising, like a tougher cut of beef or stewing chicken, you can put it together and let it go until the meat is fork-tender – usually a couple of hours or more. If you use split chicken breasts (with the bones and back meat included) from a fryer or roaster, they don’t have to cook as long, but they are sufficiently large so they’ll usually need an hour or more and will develop nice flavor.
Along with your protein you’ll need some braising liquid, like stock; an acid, such as wine or tomatoes; and aromatics, like carrots and onions. With nothing but these things and a little oil, salt and pepper, you can produce a decent braise. The trick is to barely cover the protein and to let it just simmer in the oven or on a stove top, and to adjust the cover, which, for me, is usually some foil, so you wind up with a complex sauce at the end that is sufficiently concentrated but not devoid of liquid.
Chicken breasts give off liquid, so if you cover them the whole time, your braise will really be a boil, and the chicken will be swimming in liquid. Conversely, if you braise some short ribs and don’t cover them at all, you may wind up frying them in rendered fat when all the liquid evaporates.
So, with split chix breasts, I keep them uncovered, and then cover them about 30 mins in – or when the top has some color and the liquid has reduced a bit.
Now, if you want to use fresh spices, feel free, but this is a great dish for dried versions, because they open up nicely. For God’s sake, though, use fresh ground spices!
9 large, split chicken breasts, on the bone/with back meat
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground marjoram
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
3/4 teaspoon ground thyme
3/4 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 bay leaves
20 ounces sliced brown or baby portabello mushrooms
1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/3 bottle primitivo or zinfandel (or another decent red wine with acidity and spice)
Chicken stock, as needed (should need about 2 cups)
1). In a heavy-gauge, oven-safe, dutch oven, heat the olive oil and add the onion. Saute for about 5 minutes.
2). Add the garlic and saute for another minute.
3). Add the spices and salt and pepper and saute for 30 seconds.
4). Toss in ‘shrooms and saute for a couple of minutes.
5). Add canned tomatoes, stir, and allow to simmer for a few minutes.
6). Add wine, stir, and allow to simmer for a few minutes.
7). Add chicken by standing pieces on their sides, larger side down. I use a huge dutch oven and have to do this so they all fit. They will displace liquid, which is what you want. They should be about 3/4 or more covered.
8). Add enough chicken stock so chicken is barely covered.
9). Stir in the stock a bit, using a spatula, getting between the pieces so the sauce surrounds each one.
10). Bring to a simmer.
11). Transfer to preheated 350 deg. F. oven, uncovered.
12). When liquid has evaporated such that chicken is jutting out slightly, baste top of chicken with sauce and cover loosely (with foil or with lid slightly ajar). Should be about 30 mins.
13). Place back in oven until chicken is cooked through -but not overcooked. Check now and again and add a little more stock if you need to, and/or cover more tightly.
14). Allow to rest for 10 minutes, uncovered.
15). Skim fat with flat spoon and serve chicken with plenty of sauce.