Braise on busy nights
We don't often think of braising as a weeknight-friendly approach to dinner. After all, anything that cooks low and slow would seem to be no go for a workday.
But I've found just the opposite. Turns out a hands-off braise is perfect for those evenings when I can't be in the kitchen because I'm too busy shuttling my son back and forth to karate or watching him at a cross-country meet or — on those especially fun evenings — both.
My ideal meal works something like this: I spend 10 or so minutes prepping some sort of meaty something-or-other in a large Dutch oven. This usually involves browning it for a few minutes. Then I dump in an ample amount of flavorful liquid (wine or broth), cover the pan and pop it in a low-heat oven for a couple hours. By the time we get home, it's ready to eat.
The real beauty of this approach is that it is adjustable to whatever we have going on. If we won't be gone long, I do the oven-braise at a higher temperature so the meat cooks more quickly. If we have multiple commitments, I drop the heat way down, add a little extra liquid and forget about it for several hours.
So here's a recipe for braised chicken that gets a ton of flavor by cooking in Madeira, a fortified wine from Portugal. I like to use split breasts, which are large and meaty and sport extra flavor from cooking with the bone and skin intact. You also could use chicken thighs.
As written, this recipe can be on the table with about 1 1/2 hours of cooking time. Need it to go longer than that? Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F and add a cup of water to the braising liquid. You should be good for an extra hour.
Madeira-Braised Chicken with Mushroom Gravy
Start to finish: 1 hour 45 minutes (15 minutes active)
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
4 split chicken breasts halves (3 1/2 pound total), bone in and skin on
8 ounces button mushrooms
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups Madeira wine
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Salt and ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 300 F.
In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook until nicely browned, 3 to 5 minutes. If necessary, brown the chicken in batches. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate and set aside.
Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to brown and release their liquid. Return the chicken to the pot, add the Madeira and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, place in the oven and let cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
When the chicken is cooked, remove the pot from the oven and transfer the chicken to a plate. Cover with foil and several kitchen towels. Ladle the remaining braising liquid and any solids in the pot into a blender. In a small glass, stir together the cornstarch and water, then add to the blender. Puree until smooth.
Return the gravy to the pot and set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Serve each piece of chicken drizzled with gravy.
Nutrition information per serving: 810 calories; 300 calories from fat (37 percent of total calories); 33 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 205 mg cholesterol; 27 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 68 g protein; 700 mg sodium.