Some of the most skilled cooks I know — people who confidently roast, grill and fry — balk at the notion of braising.
They think it’s more mysterious or fussy than other cooking methods. The opposite is true: Braising is extremely flexible, and it follows a formula.
There is an art to it. But since a good braise is so utterly, deliciously succulent, learning how is painless.
You need only to understand the process.
It involves gently simmering vegetables, fish, fowl or meat (or a combination) with a small amount of liquid, usually in a covered pot.
Braising chicken is a good place to start, and it’s a lot easier than you think.
Indisputably, the best part of the bird for this project is the thigh: It is the most succulent cut.
Though a whole chicken chopped in pieces can be braised, skip the heartache of overcooked breast meat and stick to thighs; your fellow diners will thank you.
A chicken thigh is nearly impossible to overcook. There is forgiveness — 10 minutes longer in the oven simply means a little more tenderness.
Thighs can also be cooked ahead and successfully reheated, often gaining juiciness and depth in the process.
I am not, however, referring to skinless, boneless thighs. You want skin-on, bone-in meat. Fat and bone both impart flavor.
To braise, you’ll want to season the meat and brown it in a pan, then add onions or other vegetables.
Moisten it all with water, tomatoes, broth or wine and bake in a covered dish for an hour.
Cook it until the meat gives no resistance when probed with a fork. Uncover the dish and bake another 10 to 15 minutes to give the dish more color and to concentrate the cooking liquid.
With this template in mind, you can let your imagination go. Dream up a braised chicken with thyme sprigs, braised chicken with tomatoes and peppers, or braised chicken with wild mushrooms.
Lately, I have had my heart set on tangy braised chicken with apricots, lightly perfumed with saffron and very lemony.
I imagined some commingling of Persian and North African spices. The craving didn’t go away, nor did I resist it.
Using the method above produced a remarkably flavorful braise.
Adding a few coriander seeds, fennel seeds and cardamom pods changed the feel.
Much more than the sum of its parts, this dish has a complexity that belies its easy preparation.