Rushing home from work on a cold winter evening, I dream of finding the kitchen filled with the heady aromas of dinner cooking slowly in the oven. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often, given that I’m the one who does most of the cooking. But there’s a way I can fill my kitchen with those wonderful cooking smells—and satisfy my taste buds—within an hour or so of arriving home: I make a chicken braise. It’s relatively quick (compared to braising other cuts of meat) yet rich and satisfying.
Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks are best for braising. When chicken legs are simmered slowly, the meat becomes wonderfully tender and falls off the bone; at the same time, it develops a rich, deep flavor. Also, the bones and skin give body and richness to the final sauce, as the thin layer of fat under the skin melts and the collagen in the bones turns into gelatin during cooking. And there’s a bonus: With most people clamoring for boneless breasts, the overlooked legs are often a bargain. I like to use a combination of thighs and drumsticks, but there’s no reason you couldn’t make these braises with one or the other, if you prefer.
Key steps to a perfect chicken braise
When you’re braising chicken (or any other meat, for that matter), you can be as creative as you want with the flavorings, but the technique stays pretty much the same. Here are the steps to follow to get the best results.
Brown the pieces quickly over fairly high heat
This achieves two things: It gives the chicken skin a flavor boost and a nice brown color, and it leaves tasty browned bits on the bottom of the pan, which will dissolve into the sauce. After browning the meat, I remove the chicken pieces from the pan, add aromatics and vegetables (or even fruit), and brown them as well. This adds yet another flavor element to my chicken braises.