Wintry Herb Chicken with Potatoes & Carrots

IMG_2030I think one of the things I like best about winter is the slower pace. Sure, you can fight against it — shoveling snow like a crazed maniac, zooming down the road with a white knuckle grip on the steering wheel and a leaden foot glued to the accelerator, honking at anyone who dares get in your way. Maybe in summertime you can get away with that pace, but it often leads to a very unfortunate ending in winter. You could easily wind up with your backside on the pavement and your legs writhing in the air like a squashed bug before you even get into your car!

Winter is merely nature’s way of saying, ”Slow down, already! Shorten that to-do list, why don’t ya?” Some days, though, it’s more of a command than a request!

Today’s recipe fits right into that slower pace — a hearty braised chicken dish that requires only a little bit of preparation and then cooks slowly while you take care of the rest of your shortened to-do list.

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Slow cooking chicken can often produce dry, rubbery, tasteless meat that ends up being a complete waste of time and effort. Throwing chicken pieces into the oven, for instance, cooks the chicken evenly, but the juices usually collect in the bottom of the pan and leave the meat dry and tasteless. You then have to return those juices to the chicken by making a gravy and slathering everything with it. Stewing chicken in a pot of boiling broth and vegetables seems like the perfect solution, but it produces chicken of a similar quality. Braising is an excellent way to seal in the juices while still cooking slowly enough to develop deep flavors.

Braising 101: you have to first brown the chicken pieces on both sides and then partially submerge the browned chicken pieces in a simmering cooking liquid.

I’ve made a few braised chicken recipes over the years and today’s recipe is a combination of some of those recipes coupled with some unique splashes of flavor.

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One of the most prominent tastes in this dish is paprika. Paprika comes in several varieties — most of them some combination of sweet, spicy or smoky — and is simply ground dried sweet peppers. For this dish, I wanted a little of both ends of the paprika spectrum, so I added equal amounts of sweet paprika and hot smoky paprika. For the sweet paprika, I opened up the cute little tin that James (my little world traveler) brought me back from Barcelona. You can find sweet paprika in almost any spice aisle in any grocery store, though — you don’t have to go to Spain unless you happen to be going in that direction. My favorite smoked paprika is from The Spice House. Theirs is a very dense, rich powder with a smokiness that’s irresistible. If you can’t find smoked paprika in your grocery store, you can either order it or find it in a specialty cooking store.

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For the chicken, you will want to be sure to buy a roasting chicken rather than a fryer. Roasters are typically meatier and heftier than fryers, in general. If you’re so inclined, you can cut it up yourself, but I prefer to buy it already cut into serving pieces (since I don’t have the equipment or experience required to cut it up myself). Be sure to keep the wings for another use. They’re not needed for this recipe. (I like to put them in the freezer with vegetable scraps to make homemade stock.)

IMG_2013I’m pretty proud of the easy seasoning preparation for the chicken — it’s basically homemade Shake-n-Bake! Be sure to pat the chicken dry and use a gallon size plastic bag so that the chicken is coated well. For this recipe, I remove the skin so the seasoning blend can make direct contact with the meat. The braising process would render the skin a flabby gooey mess anyway, so don’t forego skinning the chicken (even if you typically like the skin).

When browning the chicken, it’s important not to crowd the pan with all of the pieces at once. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to cook 2-3 pieces at a time. Just keep the browned pieces warm while you cook in batches.

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Be sure to buy small potatoes so they will cook evenly and provide the creamy texture you’re looking for. Larger potatoes — even if cut into smaller pieces — will be slightly grainy when cooked this way.

At first, you might think there’s not enough cooking liquid to do the job of cooking the chicken and vegetables. Once everything is put into the pot, however, a marvelous melding of flavors and juices occurs. While you may need to nestle the chicken pieces in amongst the potatoes and broth, in the end you’ll be glad you didn’t add more because the broth renders into a velvety smooth, gravy-like sauce.

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Wintry Herb Chicken with Potatoes & Carrots
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 4

    4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon sweet paprika
    1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika (or additional sweet paprika)
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil – or more as needed
    2 pound roasting chicken – cut into serving pieces, skin removed, reserve wings for another use
    1 1/2 cups sliced carrot – (1.5-inch slices)
    1 large onion – cut into 8 wedges
    1 pound small potatoes – quartered
    1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth – homemade preferred
    1/2 cup dry white wine

    Combine first 7 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Pat chicken dry, if necessary, then add to plastic bag; seal bag, shaking to coat. Remove chicken pieces from bag, shaking off excess; reserve excess flour mixture.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add half of the chicken pieces, being careful not to crowd the pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until lightly brown. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm; cook remaining chicken. You may need to add additional oil. Lower heat if pan smokes too much.

    Remove chicken from pan and keep warm. Add carrot and onion; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove half of the vegetable mixture; add the potatoes to the pan. Place browned chicken in the pan and arrange so that the pieces are not on top of each other. Top with remaining vegetable mixture. In a large bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the broth, wine and remaining flour mixture. Add broth mixture to the pan, be sure to nestle the chicken pieces so they are only partially submerged; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 35-45 minutes or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender.

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This is one of our most favorite wintry dinners. Though it’s hearty enough to warm you on the coldest nights of the year, it’s actually quite sensible, nutritionally. While it’s cooking and warming up your entire kitchen, your house will fill with the coziest of scents — hints of aromatic herbs, browned flour, and slow-simmering chicken. Once you cover the pan and lower the heat, too, you can have a time of well-deserved relaxation or take the time to cross off the last one or two items from your to-do list. In my opinion, the reheated leftovers are just as good if not better. So that’s another thing to cross off your list: tomorrow’s lunch!

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~ by Jason on January 24, 2011.

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