One of the best things about pot roasted chicken is that it is a relatively fast procedure. Whereas a beef pot roast will take 3 hours or more, pot roasted chicken thighs can be on the table in as little as an hour and fifteen minutes (including the time it takes to brown the chicken and prep the vegetables).
The technique is simple. Brown the chicken, remove the chicken to a plate and toss the vegetables in the hot fat until they begin to soften. Return the chicken to the pan, cover with a tight fitting lid and transfer to a low oven. Bake until the chicken is meltingly tender. While the chicken bakes, prepare some kind of plain starch—buttered noodles, mashed potatoes, steamed rice—and, if you like, a green salad. This meal is quick enough for a simple weeknight family dinner...but nice enough to serve on a weekend for a gathering of friends.
The original version of this recipe (published by Parade Magazine and developed by Sheila Lukins) calls for a whole chicken (cut into eight pieces). Frankly, I would never prepare the chicken breasts this way. Like braising (another slow, moist-heat cooking procedure), pot roasting is best suited to tough, sinewy cuts of meat. In general, lean, tender cuts (like the chicken breast) are better served by quick, dry-heat procedures like pan-frying or grilling or fast, high heat roasting. You can make this recipe with thighs and drumsticks, but I prefer to make it with all thighs. Thighs are nice and meaty and are also easier to eat than drumsticks.
As with braising, the first step in pot roasting is browning the meat. Don't shortcut this step. Not only is this step meant to brown the skin, it is also serves to render the fat from the skin. If the skin is only superficially browned, the chicken skin will remain unappetizingly flabby and the fat will render into the pot as the chicken cooks, resulting in a greasy final dish.
|Well-browned and crisped chicken skin. The excess rendered fat will be poured off before the vegetables are added to the pan|
Unlike a braise, there is no added liquid in this recipe. None is needed. As long as you use a pan with a tight fitting lid, there is plenty of moisture in the vegetables and the chicken to facilitate the cooking process. If your lid is not tight, this moisture will escape from the pan and the vegetables might stick and burn. If you are at all concerned, check the pan occasionally. If it ever seems dry, add a small splash of water. Even with no added liquid, the chicken and vegetables will naturally produce a small amount of very flavorful broth during the cooking process—perfect for moistening some noodles, rice or potatoes.
If you don't have a pan with a tight fitting lid that will go from the stove top to the oven, the recipe can be prepared using a sauté pan and a lidded casserole. Brown the chicken and vegetables as described in the recipe. When the vegetables have just begun to soften (after 3 or 4 minutes) transfer them to a shallow casserole that will hold the chicken in a single layer. Deglaze the sauté pan with a splash of water, stock or white wine and reduce until there is only a very small amount of liquid in the pan (1 or 2 tablespoons). Add the chicken to the casserole and drizzle the deglazings over all. Cover and place in the oven. Bake and serve as directed (increasing the cooking time a bit since the casserole will not be hot from cooking on the stove top and will take a few minutes to come up to temperature once in the oven). This method works particularly well if you are multiplying the recipe to serve a crowd.
Finally, don't feel that you must stick to using just carrots and leeks as the vegetables. While I love leeks, the original recipe called for a large, thinly sliced onion instead. I have made it this way, and it is very good. As far as the other vegetables are concerned, I always include carrots in the mix, but any root vegetable will work well. All of the vegetables should be cut into similarly-sized, largish chunks. This week when I was shopping for the ingredients for my pot roasted chicken, I found some beautiful parsnips at the store. The resulting dish, made with half carrots and half parsnips, was particularly delicious.
|Ingredients for a half recipe--using a mix of parsnips and carrots for the vegetables|
Baked Chicken with Garlic, Leeks & Thyme
8 chicken thighs (or 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks)—about 2 1/3 to 3 lbs total weight
1 T. unsalted butter
1 T. olive oil
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch thick slices
3 to 4 leeks, white & pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/2-inch thick and rinsed in several changes of water in order to remove all grit
5 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 T. picked fresh thyme
Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat butter and olive oil in a 12-inch ovenproof deep heavy sauté pan over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add the chicken, skin side down and brown all over, in batches if necessary to keep from crowding the pan. Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off all but a tablespoon or two of fat from the pan.
Reduce the heat slightly and add the carrots, leeks, garlic and thyme to the pan and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.
Return the chicken to the pan, along with any accumulated juices, skin side up. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and transfer to a 325° oven. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour—until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.
Serve with buttered noodles, plain rice, couscous or mashed potatoes. Serves 4 to 6
(Recipe adapted from Parade Magazine)