Chipotle Braised Chicken & Rice

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Chicken thighs have always lived in the shadow of the chicken breast, and I have to admit that until recently, that’s where I thought they belonged. My mom never made thighs when I was growing up, and I remember being skeptical in college when the dining hall seemed to sneak them into every chicken dish. But then I started cooking with them at home, and it only took me a couple of recipes to realize I had it all wrong. Thighs are so much moister than breasts, and you know how sometimes the outside of a chicken breast is perfectly seasoned and delicious, but the inside is totally bland and dry? Not so with the humble thigh. It absorbs flavor down to the bone and is much more forgiving than a breast when it comes to cooking time. And they’re less expensive, too? I’m sorry I ever doubted you, chicken thigh.

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This Chipotle Braised Chicken and Rice is my take on Arroz con Pollo, the Spanish / Latin American dish of baked chicken and rice.  While my version could hardly be called traditional, it’s a little punchier and smokier than the classic thanks to poblano and chipotle peppers. And with fire-roasted tomatoes, chicken stock, and almost a can of beer, the braising liquid turns into the most delicious sauce.

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What I love about this recipe is that everything cooks in one pot. You brown the chicken thighs, then sauté the vegetables, then braise everything together, and finally, add the rice directly to the pot.  It’s easy enough for a weeknight when want you something special for dinner, but you don’t feel like a big ordeal and a sink full of dishes. (Does anyone ever feel like that?) But it’s the toppings that elevate this from a weeknight staple to dinner party food. 

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I serve the chicken and rice in shallow bowls topped with sliced avocado, a big dollop of sour cream, a slice of lime, and chopped herbs. (Cilantro if you like it, parsley if you don’t.)  The toppings make the whole thing fun to eat and are also a great balance to the heat in the dish.  Make a big batch of margaritas and some guac to start, and you have a perfect menu that’s a total crowd pleaser. And thanks to my new BFF chicken thighs, your party won’t break the bank either. 

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Chipotle Braised Chicken and Rice


Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (2½-3½ pounds total)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
  • 1 cup (1/2-inch diced) poblano pepper (1 large)
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 cup light-colored beer, such as Modelo
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes, such as Muir Glen
  • 2 tablespoons diced chipotle peppers in adobo (2 peppers)
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce, from the can of chipotle peppers
  • 2 cups good-quality chicken stock
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 lime, halved through the stem and sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick, for serving
  • sour cream, sliced avocado, and chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium (11-inch) Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels and sprinkle both sides liberally with salt and pepper. Place four chicken thighs, skin side down, in the pot and cook for 6-7 minutes without moving, until browned. Turn the pieces over and cook, skin side up, for 3-4 minutes, until browned. Remove to a plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining four thighs.

Drain about half the fat from the pot, reduce the heat to low and add the onion, poblano pepper, garlic, cumin and oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the peppers are tender. Add the beer and cook for 1 minute, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, chicken stock, and 2 teaspoons salt and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then add the chicken thighs, along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Add the rice, stirring gently to make sure all the rice is submerged in the braising liquid, and return to the oven for 25 more minutes, covered, until the rice is almost tender and the broth has thickened. Set aside, covered, for 10 minutes. Stir in the lime juice, then serve immediately in shallow bowls, topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, a lime slice, and chopped parsley or cilantro.


Sweet Italian Sausages with Braised White Beans and Kale

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Last month, Joe and I spent a week in Puglia, Italy, the region on the heel of Italy’s “boot.” We ate countless bowls of seafood pasta, almost a whole wheel of the local, firm ricotta, and tried so many varieties of pasticiotto, Puglia’s famous cream-filled cakes, that I went through serious withdrawal when we got home. But for me, one of the most memorable things we ate on the trip was actually in Rome, where we spent a weekend before flying home.

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At Armando Al Pantheon, a restaurant a stone’s throw from the Pantheon that serves traditional Roman cuisine, we ordered the special of the day: braised white beans with sausages. (Along with lots of other things, as it was our last weekend in Italy). Even after all the burrata and cacio e pepe we ate, there was something about this dish in particular I found so satisfying and comforting.

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It was incredibly simple- white beans braised with tomatoes and herbs and served with roasted sausages- but it had so much flavor. It was the kind of thing I could see myself eating fall and winter long, with a big glass of wine and some crusty bread to mop it all up. I couldn’t wait to play around with this idea at home to see if I could come up with my own version.

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One thing I knew from the start is that I wanted to try using canned beans. Cooking the beans from scratch would be more authentic, but there’s no way I am ever going to remember to soak beans overnight. It’s just not happening. I also wanted the dish to be quick, easy, and able to be made last-minute on a weeknight.

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This recipe calls for browning the sausages in a Dutch oven, and then finishing them in the oven. I use the some of fat from the sausage to cook the onions and garlic, which I braise along with the beans, Tuscan kale (my own sneaky addition of something fresh and green), tomatoes, chicken stock, white wine and a big sprig of rosemary. If you want to go lighter, you can make this with chicken or turkey sausage. Just be sure if you’re using chicken sausage that you find a butcher that sells them uncooked. You don’t want the precooked, flavored chicken sausages for this recipe.

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This is the dinner to make when you feel like winding down and stirring something simple and comforting after a long day. The recipe calls for a half cup of white wine, so you might as well just finish the bottle, right?

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Sweet Italian Sausage with Braised White Beans and Kale


Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausages
  • 1 Vidalia onion, cut in half through the stem and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3 small garlic cloves, smashed
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 (15.5-ounce cans) cannellini beans, such as Goya, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups chopped Tuscan kale, lightly packed (about 1 small bunch), see note
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken stock, such as College Inn
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly ground Parmesan cheese, for serving
  • rustic country bread, for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the sausages and cook for 10 minutes, turning occasionally to brown them evenly. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast for 10-15 minutes, depending of the size of the sausages, until cooked through and no longer pink inside. Set aside.

Meanwhile, drain any excess fat from the pot, leaving only a thin coating of oil on the bottom. (Or, if the pot looks dry, add a splash of olive oil.) Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are browned and translucent. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the beans, kale, tomatoes, chicken stock, rosemary, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and cook at a full simmer for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Discard the rosemary sprig and any large pieces of garlic. Using the back of a wooden spoon, press of some of the beans against the side of the pot to lightly mash them. Do this about 4 or 5 times until the sauce has thickened slightly. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper, stir to combine, and then place the cooked sausages on top of the beans. Simmer for 3 more minutes, until the sausages are warmed through.

To serve, spoon some of the beans into the bottom of a shallow bowl or deep plate. Top with a sausage and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve hot with bread on the side.

Note: To remove kale leaves from the stems, lay the leaves flat on a cutting board and cut down both sides of the center rib, discarding the rib.