Braised Chicken in a SpicyTomato-Rosemary Broth

tonyr_cook_k  Tony writes: Over the years, me and chicken cacciatore have had our issues. I happily eat it every chance I get, but when I go to make this braise myself, it’s always less than wonderful; the aromatic vegetables (especially the onions) often remain toothy and the resulting broth invariably comes out uneven and sweet.  Yes, I could try to stick it out and fix the flaws of my method. Or I could jump to the next episode and make chicken cacciatore simpler (and maybe even better, at least for me). Last weekend, I made the bold decision to go simpler, focusing on the chicken and little more: canned San Marzano tomatoes, fresh rosemary and dried chiles. The result was kind of like an arrabbiata, only with chicken. And it was good, and easy. Here’s how:

– A simple formula: This recipe entails little more than braising chicken in a tomato broth, but a handful of steps make it taste like a whole lot more. First, dredge the chicken pieces in all-purpose flour before searing. This coating will add a layer of moisture to the bird and also help the subsequent broth thicken. After searing the chicken, infuse the cooking oil with smashed garlic cloves, chopped fresh rosemary, and crushed red pepper flakes. Then, deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine before simmering the tomatoes and the chicken. Finally, cook until the chicken cooks through and the sauce becomes rich.

– Chicken schmaltz: It’s the chicken fat which makes this braise rich and, the dish itself, special.  My people have long known the power of chicken fat (think matzo balls). Though I do try to discard some of the excess chicken skin before cooking, there is still plenty that renders and melts into the tomatoes during the braising step, creating a broth that is mellow and deep. This richness holds up nicely to the heat of the chiles and the brightness of the fresh rosemary.

THE RECIPE (Serves 4)

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1. Prepare the chicken:  Cut a 4-lb chicken into 10 pieces (see this step-by-step method from Fine Cooking). Rinse the chicken pieces with cold, running water and then pat dry with paper towel (the drying step is important to ensure that the chicken browns properly). Sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and 3/4 tsp. black pepper and then dredge in 1 cup all-purpose flour, shaking to remove any excess.
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2. Brown the chicken: Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 min. Add half of the chicken, evenly spaced, and cook, undisturbed, until the chicken browns around the edges and easily releases when you lift up an edge, 2 to 3 min. Brown the other sides, 1 to 2 more min, and then transfer the chicken to a large plate. Reduce the heat to medium and sear the remaining chicken in the same manner; add a splash of olive oil if the pot is dry. Transfer the chicken to the same plate.

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3. Make the broth and braise: If the pot is dry, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and, still over medium heat, add 4 garlic cloves (smashed) and cook, stirring, until they brown lightly and become fragrant, about 1 min. Add 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary and 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (add more if you like) and cook, stirring, until the rosemary becomes fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add 3/4 cup dry white wine, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring, until it almost completely reduces, 1 to 2 min. Add a 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes (pureed with their juices) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, return the chicken to the pot, cover, and cook, flipping the chicken occasionally, until it cooks through and the flavors mix and meld in the broth, about 45 minutes.

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4. Season and serve: Skim off any fat that’s accumulated on the top of the braise and then season the broth generously with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with lightly dressed arugula and something starchy (I went with polenta).

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