Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Chicken Test

People that love to cook and eat scrumptious food know that inspiration can pop out of nowhere at completely random times. Whether a sudden craving or recipe idea, I use this gastronomic insight as a stepping stone for future meals. The other day I was finishing up at work and suddenly thought of chicken; a tender braised bird flavored with tons of lemon and garlic. After I envisioned the dish and could practically taste it already the gustatory plan for the night had been sealed. I have never braised a chicken, it just seemed like a good idea and I set to work trying to figure out how it could be done. I often preach experimentation in the kitchen and my braised chicken should attest to this cavalier approach to food and cooking. One must be adventurous in the kitchen like all great chefs who periodically sit down in their ornate kitchens to brainstorm, laboriously crafting delicious dishes from start to finish. All good food starts from an inventive concept brought to life through the skill, creativity, and determination of the cook. From my past experiences it was clear to me that lemons, garlic, and tarragon pair excellently with chicken and instead of roasting in traditional fashion I decided to braise it. I hoped this technique would retain all the flavor of the chicken, render it delicately tender, and make it powerfully tasty all at once. I feel this dish highlights the crux of my culinary philosophy that food is all about enjoying yourself. To me the kitchen is an extension of that belief, a sort of improvisational laboratory where culinary dreams, wacky ideas, and yearnings are carried out. I urge you home cooks and burgeoning chefs to cook through your mind, heart, and soul to just get in there and make whatever you think sounds or tastes good. My braised chicken was a resounding success that I attribute to the good homemade vegetable stock and Meyer lemons I used. All it took was a little imagination, some basic kitchen know how, and the confidence to try something I had never tried before. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Lemony Braised Chicken
Serves 5

1 Whole Chicken (1 1/2 – 2 lbs.)

1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, thinly sliced
1 Large Lemon, thinly sliced
8 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 C. Tarragon Leaves, roughly chopped
3 C. Quality Stock (Chicken or Vegetable)
1 Tbs. Salted Butter
Salt & Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove gizzards from chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

2. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sauté onions for 5-8 minutes until translucent, add garlic and heat until fragrant.

3. Make an even layer of the onion mixture and rest chicken on top. Gently pour stock into the pot about half way up the chicken. Arrange lemon slices and tarragon leaves around and on top of the bird.

4. Bring the pot to a boil and cover with aluminum foil if necessary to ensure a tight fitting lid. Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours depending on the size of the chicken.

5. Remove the pot from the oven and set to broil. Uncover and baste chicken evenly with butter. Transfer chicken to the oven and broil for about 15-20 minutes until a crisp brown crust has formed.

6. Transfer chicken as carefully as possible to a deep platter and strain solids from the pot. Arrange cooked onions, lemon, and tarragon around the chicken and tent with aluminum foil. Set cooking liquid over high heat and reduce for about 10 minutes. Pour over chicken and serve immediately.

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