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Braised Mediterranean Chicken

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Serves 6 - 8

For this braise, I like using whole chickens cut into pieces to get the perfect mix of white and dark meat to please all my guests. If you prefer either all dark or all white meat, you can instead buy about 5 pounds of the chicken parts you like.

  • 1 cup dried Black Mission figs (about 15)
  • 2 chickens (3 pounds each), rinsed and patted dry
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely diced (about 2-1/2 cups)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (3 inches long each)
  • 14 ounces (1-3/4 cups) homemade or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 medium tomatoes (about 1-1/4 pounds total), cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; plus another 1/4 cup for garnish
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice; more if needed
  • 1 butternut squash (about 1-1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • 6 drops Tabasco or other hot sauce; more to taste
  • Couscous with Chickpeas & Pistachios
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (from about 1/2 pomegranate)
  • Savory Lemon Garnish, gently rinsed

Soak the dried figs in 1/2 cup boiling water for 30 minutes.

Cut each chicken into six or eight pieces, reserving the backs for a soup or stock. Season the chicken parts with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté as many chicken pieces as will fit into the pan without crowding (about a third to a half) on both sides until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken; set aside.

Put the onions, garlic, cumin, saffron, and cinnamon into the pot and stir, scraping up the browned bits clinging to the bottom. Sauté, stirring often, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. If the mixture begins to dry out or burn, add some of the fig soaking liquid.

Add the chicken broth, the figs and their soaking liquid, the tomatoes, 1 cup of the parsley, the cilantro, and the lemon juice, and return the reserved chicken pieces and any accumulated juices to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Partially cover the pot and simmer, skimming any fat or froth as necessary. After 20 minutes, add the squash and nestle it into the stew so that it's completely submerged. Cook until the chicken is cooked through and tender and the squash has softened, about another 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken and squash from the broth and set aside. Discard the cinnamon sticks. Increase the heat to medium high and, stirring, reduce the broth by half or until it attains a saucy consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Return the chicken to the pot; set the squash aside separately. At this point, you can cool and refrigerate the braise.

Before serving, gently reheat the braise over low heat. If the broth is too thick, thin it with a bit of water. When the chicken is hot, stir in the squash and toss gently until warmed through. Add the Tabasco and adjust the salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Mound the couscous on a platter and surround it with the chicken. Drizzle with the sauce. Arrange the squash on top of the couscous. Garnish with the pomegranate seeds, lemon garnish, and the remaining 1/4 cup parsley.

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : based on eight servings; Calories (kcal): 820; Fat (g): fat g 38; Fat Calories (kcal): 340; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 8; Protein (g): protein g 52; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 20; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 70; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 7; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 990; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 130; Fiber (g): fiber g 13;

Photo: Scott Phillips

This is my absolute "go to" dish when I'm cooking for a crowd and need something to "make ahead". I skip the squash - too much work and doesn't add much to the recipe. I also buy chicken pieces already cut and usually use breasts and thighs only. It's all done ahead and refrigerated overnight. Then just reheat gently and serve. Everyone raves about it! Oh - add a few extra figgs. Everyone wants at least a few. They add a wonderful sweetness to the dish.

This recipe appeared in your magazine a number of years ago. I have made it many times and find it to be a mysterious and exquisite blend of flavors, suitable for family or company. I'm making it again this week for a belated Christmas celebration for neighbors and relatives.

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