Over-cooked… burned edges… or gristly and dried out like wall insulation: although our vegan and vegetarian friends might have other priorities,the most horrible thing to do to a chicken is to cook it wrong. These are things that happen quite commonly when it comes to cooking chicken, also because, on the other hand, finding a piece of raw chicken meat under your teeth is simply ghastly.
So here are some ideas and practical hints that I think might help.
Slowly braising chicken in a frying pan is the perfect way for maintaining its meats juicy and tender, and making at the same time a tasty gravy with which to moisten every single bite. The chicken needs to be seared at first on high heat, so the skin gets crispy and caramelised. Then, covered with the pan’s lid, the steam cooks the meat deeper and the condensation deglazes the pan’s bottom and forms the gravy, mixing the proteins and the fats. Finally, loosely covered with the lid, the gravy can reduce and thicken, and turning the pieces from side to side a couple of times, the meat gains a slightly brown colour and absorbs back part of its own gravy.
Singeing the chicken’s skin… or how to enjoy probably the best part of the chicken
If you have lived in the countryside you know it, and if you haven’t, you should: chicken does not usually sit on feather pillows…
So it is a good idea to clean the chicken of any remnants of feather first: usually they can be found on the ends and on the joints of legs and wings. It should be easy to pluck them out by hand. For better cleaning the skin, you can dampen a cloth with some vinegar, or vinegar and water, and rub it all over. If instead, it needs to be washed under running water, then you must dry it thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel.
One last step that needs to be done is singeing any remnants of thin hair or follicles using a kitchen blow torch or the hob’s fire. Be careful not to burn or break the skin which in some parts can be very thin.
Different parts need different cooking times
If you want to use this technique for cooking a whole chicken, then you need to start cooking the legs first, since they are thick and have the biggest bones. Then, add the back (which might be cut separately or as part of the legs and wings), the neck and the wings: they are bony, but the little meat they have is protected by a stronger and thicker layer of skin. So put the skin sides down first. The last piece that goes into the pan is the breast. Despite its thickness, this meat is dryer and cooks very quickly, so it’s a good habit to keep basting it with its gravy while cooking.
What side dish to have with braised chicken?
This dish can easily go together with many sides. In the warmer time of the year, it can be served with a fresh green salad. Traditionally, it goes well together with potato puree or polenta, which perfectly match its flavors and collect the gravy. Or I’d suggest to have it with pan-fried potatoes cooked with herbs and garlic: you can find the recipe clicking here.
Potatoes & Herbs: an easy and cheap side for meats and poultry
This is a very tasty and easy side dish for many poultry or meat dishes, whether they are brazed or grilled or pan-fried as well. It is easy to make and cheep, but most of all, it is tasty and pleasing.
Remember to use yellow flesh potatoes: they will be more floury and they will better absorb gravies and juices. It is even better, if they are old: I always have some potatoes in my dry store which I buy in advance and keep at the ready for any occasion.
Find the recipe here.
Traditions and memories
They simply smell glorious: the rosemary’s and the garlic’s slightly pungent aromas tease your nose first to give way to the round, starchy and earthy smell of potatoes. One sniff, and I jump back through time and space and see myself as a child, sitting on the logs’ chest beside the cast iron stove on which Grandma G. used to cook, moving the frying pan from the sides to the centre and back, so the heat could sink in and give texture to the food.
It is also a traditional dish of my region: it has been made for centuries, sometimes with sage instead of rosemary, sometimes without any garlic at all. Extra virgin olive oil, instead, has started being used only recently – not more than 30 years ago – since I still can remember that sunflower oil or seed oil were much more common at that time. The original recipe is made with lard, which was easily available, produced locally and diffusely.