In the beginning it was Martha for me. Sure there was Julia, James, Jacques and the Silver Palate ladies, but Martha was my main inspiration as someone who was a novice at cooking, entertaining, and in a few years, a budding caterer. As the Martha Stewart empire expanded, so did the number of magazines published under the Martha Stewart brand. Among those titles was Everyday Food, a pocket-sized digest with recipes that were “fast and easy”. The recipes centered around ingredients that could easily be purchased at the grocery store and usually cooked in less than an hour. Quite a departure from many of the recipes in her many of her earlier cookbooks.
Though there are many good recipes from the magazine and accompanying PBS series, there is one that stands out from the rest, braised chicken with shallots. Over the years this recipe has been modified, updated and tweaked, this is my version.
Braised chicken with shallots is a one pot no fuss dish where the sum is definitely greater than the basic parts. The original recipe used bone in skinless chicken thighs, you could equally substitute bone-in skin on chicken thighs or boneless skinless chicken thighs. I would definitely say choose thighs or chicken quarters (leg and thigh combination) rather than chicken breasts, dark meat holds up much better to braising.
Several versions of the recipe start with a definite no-no, rinse the chicken thighs in water. Washing raw poultry before cooking is not recommended by the USDA. Bacteria in raw chicken (in all meat actually) can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces, also known as cross contamination. Cooking chicken to the proper temperature kills the bacteria. So just pat the chicken very dry with paper towels and proceed with the recipe.
Coat the chicken pieces very lightly with flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Martha recommends (and I heartily agree) using Wondra flour for this step. If you haven’t noticed, it’s that bright blue canister tucked in next to all those alternative flours like coconut and almond. Wondra is an instant flour, precooked and dried. It dissolves quickly in liquids and makes lump free gravies. In this recipe it gives the chicken an extra light and crispy crust.
Melt butter in a large heavy bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Cook the chicken three to four minutes per side, in batches if necessary. You want to develop a golden crust and leave behind brown bits that you will cook the shallots in. Remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm.
Shallots, usually a minor player in most recipes takes a starring role here. If you aren’t familiar with shallots, their flavor is sweet and mild, somewhere between an onion and garlic. This recipes uses about a pound, 12-15 medium to large shallots. Peeling shallots can be a tedious task. You can make this easier by soaking the shallots in boiling water for a few minutes and then putting them in an ice water bath so they won’t continue to cook. Make a shallow cut in the top layer and peel the skin and top layer away.
Sauté the shallots in the butter and rendered chicken fat until softened and caramelized. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and add a cup of white wine to bring some acid to the dish and to deglaze the brown bits in the bottom of the pan. I used vermouth, a fortified white wine that is flavored with herbs and spices. If you are going to use vermouth, look for a dry (not sweet) variety.
Stir in the Dijon mustard and add the fresh rosemary sprigs. Put a lid on the pan and simmer for thirty minutes. At the end of the cooking time add two cups of halved cherry tomatoes. Although I am not a fan of out of season tomatoes, there are some I will use as “supporting players” when they are necessary to the dish. With seed sourced from the south of France, Sunset Flavor Bombs are a good choice and available at big box stores.
This is a great dish for the busy cook, cook on a Sunday afternoon, reheat and serve several days later. Serve with noodles or rice to sop up the juices.
Chicken with Shallots
- 2½ to 3 lbs chicken thighs (6-8 pieces)
- 2 T flour (I used Wondra)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 T unsalted butter
- 12 medium to large shallots, peeled
- 1 c vermouth
- 1½ T Dijon mustard
- 2 large sprigs rosemary
- 2 c small tomatoes cut in half or quarters
- Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper and flour.
- Melt the butter over medium high in a heavy bottomed skillet large enough to fit the chicken pieces comfortably. When the butter begins to foam, cook the chicken, in batches if needed, 6-7 minutes per side. It should be brown and crisp on both sides. Set the chicken aside on a plate and keep warm.
- Sauté the peeled shallots in the butter and the chicken fat until they begin to soften and caramelize, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the vermouth with a large wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. Add in the mustard and the rosemary sprigs. Return the chicken thighs to the pan and cover. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir them in to combine. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. Reheat and serve in the next two days.