Friday, December 25, 2015

Braising, chicken, and a nest of herbs.

Getting to know my friend Wini has been a wonderful experience. For many years she was the Datebook Diner, the local restaurant critic writing for the Des Moines Register. I had no idea she had so many incredible experiences in France and spent time in the cookbook/writing business. You may know Des Moines is also home to the Better Homes and Gardens company of magazines, cookbooks and more. Wini has also worked there and that's surely where she developed her easy-to-follow recipes and wonderful stories that accompany them. Her cookbook, The Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook, is a wonderful collection of recipes, stories, tips and techniques that pulled me along with Wini on her French adventures as I read it cover to cover. I could close my eyes and envision her, sitting down to dinner with the French families she visited, or cooking in her own French kitchen when she lived there. That's the life I always wanted, and still hope for. Wini still writes, blogs, teaches and appears on a local morning news show. Even if you aren't an Iowan, follow her Facebook page- you will get tons of recipes, ideas, links to videos, and exclusive news.

Lots of people are scared to death to try French cooking. They have a fear of endless and pricey ingredient lists, difficult techniques and expensive equipment. The Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook made us all realize the French home cook is just like us- they just want dinner on the table with a minimum of fuss. Her book, The Braiser Cookbook, is a book every cook needs to own. It reinforces the ease with with French cooks get dinner on the table, this time accentuating on the technique braising.

What is braising? Think of it as something like crock pot cooking without the crock pot. A braiser is a cooking vessel very similar to a Dutch oven, but they tend to have a larger cooking surface and not as deep. The secret to the perfect braise is the moist, steamy environment created while roasting in a closed braiser. Like a crock pot, the food is often cooked low and slow, but not always, which brings out a tenderness and a richness that is so incredible, and like those crock pot recipes, most of the work is at the beginning, then you let the oven and braiser work their magic.

The recipe we are cooking today is Chicken Cooked in a Nest of Thyme. Everything about this dish I love- heavenly roast chicken, lemony-scented thyme, garlic and lemon juice. Classic flavors for a perfect chicken dish. Let's see what Wini has to say about this dish-

This is the recipe of Alsatian-born chef David Baruthio. Although he has cooked from Belgium to Beverly Hills, he recently chose Iowa for his home after falling in love with an Iowa girl (and marrying her). Together, they run the acclaimed restaurant, Baru 66, in Des Moines.

We love this preparation for chicken. It calls for just five ingredients and a little salt but results in a luscious, moist bird with subtle and insistent aromas of lemon, garlic, and thyme.

We suggest making this recipe when you can visit your farmers market (or backyard herb garden) and bring home a generous bouquet of picked-that-morning thyme. 

Wini's chicken, as pictured in her book.
To make the Chicken in a Nest of Thyme, you will need-
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 large bouquet of thyme (about 6 ounces or enough to create a "nest" in the bottom of your braiser
  • 2 lemons, washed and quartered
Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the garlic head to expose the gloves, reserving the "cap" you just cut off. Separate about 5 cloves from the head, leaving the rest intact. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a 3 1/2 quart braiser over medium high heat until it shimmers. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the chicken and cook, turning as needed, until the chicken is golden brown on all sides.

Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet, reserve the drained fat. Add the cut garlic bulb, it's cap and the 5 separated cloves to the braiser. Let them brown a bit in the fat, about 5 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the pan. Add the thyme sprigs, scatter evenly to form a nest. 

Fresh thyme from my garden to make my nest
Place the chicken on top of this "nest" of thyme. Arrange the garlic cloves, cap and bulb around the chicken. Squeeze the juice from the lemons over the chicken. Arrange lemon around the chicken. Pour the reserved cooking fat over the chicken. Season with salt. Cover the braiser and place in preheated oven.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Use a thermometer to double check doneness- thighs should be 180 degrees and breast, 170.

Allow chicken to rest ten minutes before carving into pieces to serve. Discard the lemon and thyme, but serve a few cloves of garlic on each plate. It's soft, warm and makes a delicious condiment spread on the chicken, crusty bread or vegetables.

Now, let's talk about how my dish turned out. For one thing, out here in our small town grocery store they had not a single whole chicken in the store. Nor even a whole cut up chicken. I had to use thighs and legs. Even the chicken breasts were boneless and skinless and just not the best choice for roasting. 

They had one, yes one and only one, fresh lemon so I had to use a little extra lemon juice. It's a darn good thing I have an herb garden! They have NO fresh herbs! The one benefit of using chicken pieces is it's so much easier to brown the chicken before braising. I was able to nestle the pieces down in the thyme nest too, and cooking time was a little less than a whole chicken. 

What I love so much about this recipe, besides the succulent roast chicken, is the delicious pan juices left behind. Drizzled over the chicken and vegetables, there is nothing more delicious. I added some homemade artisan bread and some herbed rice and we had the perfect dinner.

Wini's cookbook is filled with delicious and amazingly easy-to-prepare recipes. I hope you will check it out. It's available right now on Amazon, you can get yours by clicking HERE. You will not regret it.

You have nooooo idea how good this smells
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. All recipes, stories, photos were used with the permission of the author"

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy the way you have presented this great information.It makes me wonder why I had not thought of it before! Thanks for sharing