What: Chicken Legs Braised with Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic
Where: The Art of Simple Food
Who: Alice Waters
This dish is like a mom hug. It’s like climbing into your own bed after two weeks on the road. It’s like sweatpants-cum-novel by the fire. Chicken legs braised with tomatoes, onions, and garlic does not sound like much, and truly I almost skipped over this recipe for that very reason. But wow. The rustic, full-bodied, comforting flavors go all the way to the bone on this one. Also, this is a one-pot wonder, which I am particularly grateful for. All the steps happen in one pan (frying, sautéing, braising) and the braising part can be done either on the stovetop or in the oven. The juices from the chicken, tomatoes, broth, and wine cook down into this glossy sauce and the chicken falls off the bone. It’s truly a five-star recipe, and it places among my top five favorites from the whole book thus far.
There are a handful of small tricks to accomplishing the succulent flavor:
First, salt after each step. For example, when the 2 sliced onions go into the pot to cook, sprinkle them with salt. When the sliced garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary go in, salt again. And when the tomatoes (I used canned, diced) go in, salt again. The salt releases oils and juices and flavors, helping them marry and meld. I’m not talking huge amounts of salt, just a sprinkle each time. The layering of salt ensures that the dish doesn’t taste of salt, of but of flavor.
Second, when Waters says to lay the chicken skin-side down in the hot pan to fry until crisp for 12 minutes, she means it. Set the timer and don’t move the chicken until the time is up. You’ll want to make sure the burner is on medium heat. I was tempted to adjust them, check underneath, etc, but thankfully I practiced self-control. This skin was the crispiest I’ve ever achieved. Disturbing the chicken would have inhibited the golden crust-making. Once the chicken is crisp and mouth-watering, the juices are sealed and no moisture will ever escape. In addition (and probably most importantly) you’ve ensured that the chicken will have incredible flavor and succulent texture.
Third, use fresh rosemary. Waters call for 1 small sprig. I used 1 large one.
Fourth, use your biggest Dutch Oven pot. I used my orange 7-Quart Cuisinart Enameled dutch oven (which is incidentally under $100 on Amazon today, how cool!). It fit 4 chicken leg+thighs well with plenty of room to crisp and brown. To double the recipe, you will need to use a second pot or pan to do the browning but then could combine everything into one pot for the braising process.
Fifth, follow her Variation by adding the 1/3 cup white wine to the onions (before adding the tomatoes). I believe this is very important for achieving that exquisite, hug-quality flavor.
Sixth, serve this over Waters’ Saffron Rice, as I did. What a mouth-watering, synergistic pair! I garnished the whole dish with fresh chopped parsley, and served Waters’ Green Pea and Asparagus Ragout on the side.
For this recipe, a “chicken leg” is the leg + thigh, bone-in and skin-on. Waters uses 4 legs, and the recipe serves 4.
Waters calls for salt and peppering the chicken the day before. I did not do this, but simply chose to salt liberally before frying. Seasoning the day before protects the meat against blandness and begins to tenderize the protein fibers. However, if you salt as you go, the meat will not be bland and it will certainly be tender from the low-and-slow braising.
Waters calls for frying the chicken in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. For a hint more flavor, I added to that 1 Tablespoon of butter.