I just finished reading (most of) Cooked by Michael Pollan. Like my experience reading other books by Pollan, I came away amazed, enlightened, and ready to change. (After reading a book a month for five years for a book club, I asked other members what book changed their life, if any. I don't remember if anyone else had an answer, but mine was In Defense of Food by Pollan, and I couldn't quite understand why no one else had been impacted like me.) In Cooked, I learned why wild yeast sourdough bread is the healthiest bread and all about the role bacteria plays in our bodies and why we should eat more of it, like fermented foods (the modern diet is almost devoid of bacteria). But those are topics for another day. The one for today is braising.
One section of Cooked is devoted to the power of water in cooking. Braising (to cook food slowly in fat and a small amount of liquid in a covered pot) can transform seemingly hopeless cuts of meat into divine morsels. I realized braising was not a technique I really use at all in cooking, so when I saw this recipe for a chicken braise, I was motivated to try it. I made this last night; my life is changed. I certainly have used similar ingredients (chicken, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomatoes, water) to create other dishes, but this has to be the tastiest one-pot dish I've made or eaten ever or at least in a long time. Really, it was quite amazing.
I need more braises in my life! If you have any to share, please do. I'll definitely be on the lookout. My next will be for a grass-fed chuck steak I just bought directly from a family farm. I just bought a little beef from him to make sure I liked it (I've had some grass-fed beef that was not worth repeating), but I'm hoping to be back for more soon. And since it's more expensive than run-of-the-mill grocery store beef, cheaper cuts are all I can afford. Braising is the process to turn those cuts into something magical.
Chicken Legs in Tomato Gravy with Mashed Potatoes
adapted from Food52
4 chicken legs (drumstick and thigh attached or separated), skin-on
1 cup celery, diced
1 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced on a bias
4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
2 cups tomato purée
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoon rosemary, minced OR 2 tsp. dried rosemary
2 bay leaves
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
mashed potatoes, for serving
Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oven to 375˚ F. Place a large sauté pan that is oven-safe over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to the pan so that the bottom is just coated. Add the chicken legs and brown them generously on all sides. Adjust the heat as necessary. Add the carrots, celery, and onions to the pan, and season with salt and pepper. Make sure the heat is on medium or lower so that it takes a long time for them to soften. Don't let the vegetables brown. Once the veggies are very soft, add the garlic and rosemary. Stir the veggies around and once the garlic is fragrant nestle the chicken legs comfortably with the veggies. Add the white wine or chicken broth and let it reduce to almost nothing. While the liquid is reducing use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add tomato puree, water, and bay leaves. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover with a "lid" made out of parchment, then slide it into the heated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve over mashed potatoes.