Sunday, January 27, 2008

Soy Braised Chicken Thighs

In an effort to cut down our grocery bill, I bought a big package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, rather than our usual, more expensive, big package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Like most female, white Americans of a certain age, I have an unfounded fear of dark poultry meat. I'm not sure why, but the gobs of fat and reddish, fibrous meat on thighs are spooky to me. I've read enough to know that all chefs prefer the flavor of dark meat to the non-flavor of white meat, and I have to agree with them there. I still don't love prepping thighs (breast portions are so much easier), but I'm determined to get more comfortable with them and make dark meat the rule, with white meat becoming the occasional exception.

One way to learn to love the dark (meat) is to cook it in ways with which white meat simply would not work. Braising is one such technique; the lengthy cooking in liquid would turn white meat dessicated and rubbery. Dark meat stays flavorful and moist, and its natural juiciness turns the braising liquid into a tasty, savory sauce at the end. After much googling last night, I came across this recipe for an Asian-inspired chicken braise. The flavor of the salty-sour cooking liquid is enhanced by whole star anise, a cinnamon stick, and strips of orange peel.

The star anise and cinnamon are best bought at your local Asian grocery store. Such "exotic" ingredients are marked up at chain groceries, while at an Asian store, you can buy big bags of the stuff for under $2 each.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup chicken broth or stock
1- 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
Peanut oil
3 green onions, white and green parts separated, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
5 short strips of orange peel, removed with a vegetable peeler
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce, honey, and chicken broth. Set aside for later.

In a dutch oven, warm up a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pot in an even layer to brown. You will probably have to do this in 2 batches, unless you have a very big pot! Let the chicken cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until golden and seared. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Pour off all but about one tablespoon of fat from the pot. Return it to medium heat, and throw in the white part of the green onions, garlic, ginger, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir around for about half a minute, until you can smell the garlic and ginger. Pour in the reserved soy mixture. Top off with more chicken broth and soy sauce if needed to reach a depth of about 1/4 inch of liquid. Stir to combine, and add the orange peel, cinnamon, and star anise.

Add the chicken thighs back to the pot, adding any accumulated juices from the plate. Cover with a lid and place in the lower third of the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over with tongs and top off with more chicken broth if needed to maintain the 1/4 inch of liquid. Replace the lid and let cook in the oven for another 15 minutes, or until fork tender.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cover with tin foil to keep warm. Remove the orange peel, cinnamon, and star anise from the pot, place over a medium high heat, and bring the liquid up to a simmer. Skim off any surface fat if desired. Stir in the green part of the green onions.

Make a slurry out of the cornstarch and a tablespoon of either chicken broth or water. Pour into the pot and stir to thicken. Let it bubble up for a minute and taste for seasoning. If it's too salty, add a bit of vinegar. If it's too sour, add a bit more soy sauce. Take the foil off the chicken, and carefully pour in any juices from the platter.

Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Serve with rice or egg noodles.

Rating: This is awesome

I tried to refrain myself from slurping the sauce out of my bowl when the chicken and rice were gone. No such luck.

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