Thursday, January 17, 2013

Baked Chicken with Garlic, Leeks & Thyme—"Pot Roasted" Chicken

If you mention the words "pot roast", most Americans will immediately think of a rustic and hearty dish of beef and vegetables—beef so tender it is practically falling apart and vegetables that are soft and infused with the rich flavor of the beef. But beef isn't the only meat that can be "pot roasted". Pot roasting is simply the procedure. It can be used to cook any tough, fatty, sinewy cut of meat. Today I thought I would share a favorite recipe for pot roasted chicken thighs.

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)

Printable Recipe


Anonymous said...

idea is good,simple to follow,tastes good sadly needs a lot more baking time!

Paige said...

Hi, I debated whether or not to publish your commnent...I feel it needs a response, but I'm not quite sure how to proceed because you don't give the reason that the dish "needs a lot more baking time" (crunchy vegetables? undercooked or tough chicken? etc.).

I'll start by saying I'm sorry the recipe didn't turn out for you...I want to encourage people to cook with good successes in the kitchen and I'm sorry this wasn't successful for you. All I can say is that when I make this dish (and I have made it many times) in my kitchen, it works as written. The original recipe from Sheila Lukins had the cooking time at 1 hour. I have it at 45 minutes to one hour because this dish is always done in my oven after 45 minutes...and by done I mean the vegetables and chicken are both very soft and tender. If your vegetables and chicken were not tender after the amount of time specified, I would suggest just cooking it longer! should always be continued until the thing you are cooking is cooked to your liking!

Finally, I would encourage you to re-examine the recipe and make sure that you followed what I had written. How large were your vegetables cut (if they were cut thicker than 1/2 inch, then they will take longer to cook)? Did you brown the chicken first? Did you cook the vegetables briefly in the pan (so they will begin to heat up)? Did you preheat your oven?...and even if you did, your oven may not be calibrated the same as mine...ovens vary widely.

Again...I'm sorry this didn't work out as you wished. I'm glad you liked the flavors and hope you will try it again. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

Paige said...

When I wrote this post, in the text I described an alternate method for cooking this dish that involves browning the chicken and vegetables in one pan before transferring them to another pan--a covered casserole of some kind--for baking in the oven.

Unfortunately, I neglected to mention that the baking times in the recipe are specific to chicken that is baked in the same pan it was browned in. This is important because when made this way, the pan containing the chicken will be hot when it goes into the oven. A casserole will not be hot. Consequently the baking time will be slightly longer since it will take time for the casserole to heat up once in the oven. I would estimate that the baking time for this alternate method would be at least an additional 15 minutes...maybe a bit longer.

I don't know if this was the reason that the anonymous commenter's chicken took longer than mine, but if it was, I apologize for the lack of clarity in the post. I have updated that paragraph of the text to include instructions to increase the cooking time when using a casserole.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the additional comments! I am making this tonight, in the oven as I type. It smells delicious and Im excited! Grandma bought some leaks at the Farmer's Market and after searching for a day trying to find a Chicken Thighs & Leeks recipe your's was the one that sounded the best! Thank you for sharing! :)

Unknown said...

Just made this...all done eating and let me say that this is DELICIOUS! Im sharing with others and I will be making it again. I cant get enough of it! Thank you so much for posting!

Paige said...

Hi Bobbi, Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I'm so pleased the dish worked for you and that you enjoyed it! I too love this dish.

Unknown said...

This dish was so good that it was requested by Grandma again and I have to be honest...I've been CRAVING it. We were able to have left overs and reheated it the second night - this time I "re browned" the chicken in the skillet (butter/olive oil) and then I added the veggies, placed the lid on and cooked until every thing was hot) - I am very leery on re heating chicken because some times the taste is a little off, this was just as good as the first night I served it! I can't thank you enough for posting this recipe, it's a new staple in this family...Now to share the goodness with my mother.

Paige said...

Thanks Bobbi. This dish is definitely a good one to have in the staple recipes file. I'm so glad you and your family are enjoying it!

Emily said...

I made this dish last night and it turned out excellent! I used 4 chicken thighs instead of the 8. I paired in with brown rice but noodles would be good, too. I feel like it's missing more veggies, so maybe I will try fresh green beans next time. This is a classic dish, and very easy to make!

Paige said...

Hi Emily, I'm so glad you liked the chicken! I often serve it with a salad or a side green vegetable (like green beans). You could also add more root vegetables to the pan with the chicken....parsnips, turnips, celery root, etc. I've never served it with brown rice, but I'm sure it was delicious. Besides noodles, I have served it with Basmati rice, Farro, quinoa, couscous and mashed potatoes. Anything that will soak up the delcious broth works well!

Jennifer said...

Just made this and it is fantastic! Delicious, tender-great comfort food! I used the parsnips and carrots and loved it over buttered noodles. Wonderful meal and turned out just right-chicken moist and falling off the bones, vegetables tender and tasty!

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