The Sunday Braise

BraiseWe’ve got some busy days coming up.  First of all, our architects are returning this week and you know what they will be bringing?  Site renderings!  They came twice last fall and interviewed every possible stake-holder in the school about what they would like to see in our new school building.  They’ve done aerial views and studied the engineering challenges of the site.  Now, it’s time to get our first look at the baby.  It’s going to be pretty thrilling, but it will entail a bunch more meetings.

Second, Allan and I are starting proper French class.  We’ve worked here and there on our own tutorials these past years, but we’ve always meant to get something consistent on the calendar.  Tuesdays after school, now, we will be in an actual class with some other colleagues (accountability…), a textbook, and homework.  Gulp.

Then, Allan has started co-coaching the soccer team which keeps him at practice until 5:00 PM.

This is all just by Wednesday, and I knew that if we wanted to eat proper food this week, I  had to get it not only planned ahead, but actually cooked, today.  Even before reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked last spring, in which he dedicates an entire section to his Sunday braises, I had hit on that pattern, too.  The practically hands-free cooking, that allows you to get a few other things ready for the week, is reason enough to put a braise in the oven, but its beauty is multi-faceted.  First, you can make it using any meat (or none), plus any vegetables (or none), plus any liquid.  I generally don’t put beans in, but today I had some freshly-shelled fava beans, so I cooked them together.

The sequence is always the same.  You brown the meat, remove it and cook the vegetables until they are softened, then put is all back together and add some liquid:  water, stock, wine.  Cover it tightly and cook it for several hours on low, low heat, just so little heat bubbles are surfacing, slowly.  For the last half hour or longer if you choose, remove the lid and allow the liquid to reduce and the ingredients to caramelize.  You can eat the braise immediately or cool it and put it in the refrigerator.  The dish actually improves in flavor by 1 to 3 days in the refrigerator before serving, and you can reheat it all or just in servings.

A braise is a perfect way to use up vegetables and other flavor enhancements at the end of a week.  And now my tragic confession:  I was sorting through the fridge, making decisions about cooking components, when I came across my bottle of lemon olive oil that was basically finished.  Acting efficiently, I filled the bottle with warm water to soften all of the remaining lemon pulp and the chilled oil and ran it down my garbage disposal.  Not until I was building the braise did I regret that I hadn’t put all of that flavor into my pot.  The lemon pulp would have completely dissolved into the sauce and been absorbed by the meat and fava beans.  I won’t make that mistake again.  From now on, the bottom of the bottle goes into the braise.

Chicken and Fava Bean Braise

Ingredients

  • 8 chicken thighs or other pieces
  • Rosemary salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Hot paprika
  • 6 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 leeks, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 2 mild green peppers, chopped
  • 2 cups parsley, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups fresh fava beans, shelled
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup of lemon olive oil pulp (optional)
  • Fennel fronds
  • Cured black olives
  • Grated lemon rind

 Rub chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Heat oil in heavy-bottom, Dutch oven and brown chicken on all sides.  Remove chicken from pan.  Add leeks, shallots, fennel, and garlic.  Cook until vegetables are beginning to soften.  Add peppers, parsley, bay leaves,  and fava beans.  Soften slightly.  Place chicken on top of beans and vegetables.  Add chicken stock, white wine, and lemon olive oil pulp, if using.  Cook at 300 degrees for 2 hours, monitoring frequently for liquid level.  Add more if needed.  Remove lid, increase heat to 350 degrees.  Cook until liquid is reduced and ingredients have caramelized. Serve immediately, or cool and chill in the refrigerator for 1-3 days.   Garnish with fennel fronds,  olives, and lemon zest, if using.

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