Recent falling temperatures have had me craving hearty, warming dishes like soups, braises and stews. In fact, those are my favorite kinds of dishes to prepare--they can take some time, but they're usually simple, utilizing basic ingredients (root vegetables, wine, stock) and elementary techniques (chopping, stirring) and relying on low, slow cooking--not hard-to-source products or fanciful knife skills--to develop their flavor. For the (usually) minimal amount of effort that goes into making such dishes, the payoff is big.
Last night when shopping for dinner ingredients I had no ideas beyond wanting to make the type of meal described above. Inspiration seized me when I spied a package of chicken thighs for $1.70, an offer too good to pass up. Browsing the produce section of the market, I rounded out my haul with a some button mushrooms, a bunch of parsley, and a few leeks. When I went to grab a can of peeled plum tomatoes I spotted a bag of egg noodles and decided that my stew would be better complemented by those than by the long-grain brown rice I had been planning to serve underneath.
The cooking process itself was just as easy and intuitive as my shopping had been. First I browned the chicken thighs in my roommate's beautiful old Le Creuset pan, removing them to saute the mushrooms and leeks--and a little bit of garlic--in their flavorful residual juices. I deglazed with some red wine, added some tomatoes that I had crushed by hand, and slipped the chicken pieces back in the pan. Then I lowered the heat and let everything bubble away, partially covered, for about a half hour. By that time, the noodles were cooked, tossed with butter and chopped parsley, and awaiting their flavorful counterpart. I welcome winter if it means food like this.
Braised Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Leeks and Red Wine
1. Set a large, wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add about 2 tbsp. olive oil. Generously season skinless chicken thighs (4-5 should come in a package) with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then brown them well, cooking for about 3-4 minutes per side. Set aside.
2. Add one package of button mushrooms, quartered, to the pan. Cook them until they've browned and lost most of their moisture, about 6-8 minutes. As they cook, halve 3-4 leeks lengthwise and slice them into thin half-moons, using the white and light green parts only. Rinse them well in cold water to remove all grit. Mince 2 cloves of garlic.
3. When mushrooms are browned, lower heat slightly and add leeks, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks have wilted. Increase heat and add about 1/2 cup of dry red wine, stirring vigorously to deglaze the pan. Lower heat to medium-low and add 4 or 5 canned peeled plum tomatoes to the pan, crushing them by hand as you add them. Add about 1/2 cup of the tomato liquid to the pan and stir to combine.
4. Add the chicken thighs and their accumulated juices back to the pan. Cover partially and allow to simmer over low heat for about half an hour. In the meantime, set a large pot of water to boil, salt it, and cook the egg noodles to al dente. When they are done, drain them and toss them with about 2 tbsp. of butter, salt, pepper, and about 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley.
5. Over each portion of noodles, serve 2-3 chicken thighs and a generous spoonful of sauce. Top each plate with more chopped parsley, if desired.