A screed, a stew, a recipe....
I read a lot of cookbooks as a child. We only had five and they were like crack to me. There was a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook from circa 1970. It was covered in clumps of dried flour (also likely from 1970) and had a prominent soy sauce stain after my childhood attempt at making rumaki. Why a seven year old wanted to make a dish consisting of chicken livers and water chestnuts is beyond me. I just knew I always wanted to order it from the local Chinese restaurant Gongs, and my mother would not allow it. We didn’t eat chicken livers in our house. So I took matters into my own hands. There was another book I remember well. I believe it was zealously titled 1,802 Ways to Make Chicken Breast. I tried cooking from that book. I never really liked it.
Chicken breast was and still is a staple in many American households, and for years, it was exclusively that bland, boring part of chicken that I knew. The first time I actually ate a chicken leg, off the bone, was a revelation to me. The fact that it was cold, a few days old and came from the El Pollo Loco didn’t seem to bother me. I just knew I liked it. And thusly began my love affair with preparing and eating the humble chicken leg.
I still don’t particularly care for the chicken breast. It is floppy and sad. You can’t braise it and it has no real body or flavor. And frankly, I still act like a child and can’t resist the urge to eat with my hands. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I occasionally crack a chicken leg bone in half and suck out the marrow, a habit I picked up as a kid after seeing my friend’s 75 yearold grandmother do it. What a cool party trick, I thought.
This recipe for winter stew is one of many that I rediscover when I want a comforting dish, featuring one of my favorite ingredients: chicken legs. It braises for 2 hours and the result is a rich sauce and tender chicken that gracefully slips from the bone. It is not of Neapolitan extraction. In fact it is simply a mash-up of many cooking methods. More importantly, it also happens to reuse the parmesan braised carrots I had lying around from the previous day.
A braised chicken stew is easy to make and can be made ahead of time. It is winter cooking at its best: low heat and slow cooking. Chicken legs (and thighs) are convenient and inexpensive ingredients. They braise well and are visually appealing in a finished dish. I enjoy eating chicken directly off the bone with my hands. So does Giuseppe’s mom (a woman of my own heart)! Giuseppe on the other hand eats daintily with a knife and fork. You can eat the chicken however you like. Just don’t let the braising sauce go to waste. Slurp it, spoon it, or mop it up with bread scarpetta style. Whatever the method, your plate should be clean upon finishing. And if you feel like it, crack that chicken bone in half and go to town on the marrow.
Serves 4 as secondo
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken legs
One Vidalia onion thinly sliced lengthwise
One clove minced garlic
½ cup dry white wine
4 cups homemade chicken stock or store bought (low sodium is best)
6 baby Yukon gold potatoes cut in halves (or if they are of the larger variety, cut in quarters)
3 carrots peeled and cut diagonally into ¼” coins
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Heat olive oil over medium high heat in Dutch oven.
While olive is heating, pat chicken legs dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
Brown chicken legs in heated olive oil. It is important that your Dutch oven is large enough. If the chicken does not fit in one layer (though with standard Dutch ovens they likely will fit), brown in two batches. The total browning time should take roughly ten minutes.
When chicken legs are fully browned (they should be a deep golden), remove from Dutch oven and set aside on plate.
Reduce heat to medium and add onions and a few grindings of pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon, until the onions turn slightly golden in color (roughly five to seven minutes).
Add minced garlic, stir to coat in onions and fat for one minute.
Add white wine, reduce by one half, stirring to release any brown bits stuck to the Dutch oven.
Return chicken legs to pot and add chicken stock, potatoes, carrots and thyme. Bring to a boil.
Once your stew had reached a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 2 hours.
After two hours simmering, your stew is done. Serve in shallow bowls with toasted bread and garnish with fresh thyme.