by Amanda Mattos
I had the Make A Big Fancy Meal bug earlier this week; I hadn’t cooked anything substantial in a few days, and was feeling the itch to try something new. I browsed through the recipes I’d tucked away on Delicious and settled on a vaguely-French menu of Smitten Kitchen’s devil’s chicken thighs + braised leeks, Serious Eats’ roasted Roquefort & walnut pears in wine syrup, and a mustard greens & rapini salad. And it was an incredible pain in the ass. Delicious, but a whole hell of a lot of work.
After the jump I’m going to break down the chicken recipe, because it was not only complicated to make, but confusing to figure out. Here I’ll say, the pear recipe was good, but I used cheapo gorgonzola and pre-crushed walnuts, and it showed. If you make it, use some at least sort of good quality ingredients, it’ll make a big difference. And mustard greens and rapini, while normally cooking greens, make a fine raw salad.
My tips on navigating the Devil’s Chicken Thighs & Braised Leeks Recipe:
Shop & prep the day before you cook. The chicken needs to marinate for at least 4 hours (I put it in the fridge the night before, giving it 24 hours to sit in the vermouth mixture), so don’t expect to pop home after work and be able to start work on this dish then.
Also, when you shop, throw some garlic in your cart too. The recipe didn’t call for ANY! Which made me go wait, what? Chicken without garlic? Are you bananas?? So I added it in (I’ll indicate where later), and I’m glad I did.
And another thing. 6 leeks wasn’t nearly enough for 12 pieces of chicken. I’d at least double it and count on using two casserole dishes (unless you happen to have a really enormous casserole dish, which I don’t).
Oh, and one more! It seemed weird to not cover the chicken with the marinade (in this case, with vermouth), so I used a lot more than was called for in the recipe. If you were counting on using what you’ve got on hand at home, you might want to double up. And don’t forget that you’ll need some more vermouth when the actual cooking starts.
All that said, here’s my amended ingredient list (reformatted for grocery shopping) of what you’ll need for this dish:
- 12 large leeks
- About a dozen shallots, depending on size. All toll you’ll need a cup and a half, sliced.
- 1 cup thinly sliced onion (abt. 2 small onions)
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 bunch fresh thyme; total you’ll need about 5 tbs.
- 2 fresh bay leaves, thinly sliced, or 2 dried leaves, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 teaspoons chopped tarragon
- 2 chiles de arbol, thinly sliced on the diagonal (I used a cayenne and a jalapeno; this dish isn’t dependent on the heat.)
- 2 cups dry white wine (I used wine instead of stock to deglaze the pan at the end. Also used some to make up for my lack of additional vermouth when cooking. So just crack open a bottle.)
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
- About 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 12 chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin and fat
- 2 cups dry vermouth
- 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup dijon mustard
- 1 extra-large egg
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Braise Your Leeks First. I braised my leeks the night I made the chicken. The SK recipe says you can do it ahead of time. I am sure they’re correct but can’t personally speak to the results. If you’ve got some time, go ahead and do that. But if you do it the same night, do that before you start doing anything else with the chicken.
There are 800 steps to this recipe. I’m going to list them out. Because in the SK text of the recipe, it gets pretty confusing pretty quick about what happens where.
- Marinate the chicken (check)
- Braise the leeks (check. also, note: this has a lot of steps all on its own)
- Make the breadcrumb mixture
- Make your shallot reduction sauce
- Turn that into a dijon sauce
- Brown the chicken
- Dredge the chicken in the dijon sauce
- Place chicken on top of braised leeks in baking dish
- Cover the dredged chicken with the breadcrumbs
- Pour whatever dijon sauce you’ve got left over the whole deal
- Deglaze the pan and pour that over the whole deal
- Actually cook the sucker
- Wonder while eating this moist, perfect tasting creation whether or not it was worth the effort
So, I may have exaggerated with the whole “800 Steps” thing. But a baker’s dozen is still a lot of steps for one dish. And that doesn’t even include prep work, like chopping! Here’s that list again, with the actual recipe included.
Delicious Pain in the Ass Chicken on Braised Leeks
1. Marinate the Chicken
Cut any fat you don’t want (me, I like fat) from the chicken, and place in a bowl or ziplock bag with 1 cup sliced onion, 2 tbs fresh thyme leaves, 2 crushed bay leaves, 2 chopped chilies, and enough vermouth to just about cover the meat. Marinate over night (or, at the minimum, for 4 hours).
2. Braise the Leeks
Preheat oven to 400.
Cut the root and most of the ends off of the leeks and remove any bruised outer layers. Wash by submerging in cold water until dirt is gone. Pat dry. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat up a sautee pan and olive oil. Sautee the leeks on either side until just seered/browned. Move the leeks to your casserole (spread between two if you can), add more olive oil, and sautee together the shallots (1 cup, sliced), thyme, salt and pepper, until shallots are starting to color. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine and reduce by half. Add 1+1/2 cup stock and bring to a boil.
Pour the stock sauce over the leeks. It should nearly cover them. Braise for 30 minutes, or until leeks are tender. Set aside.
Before you move on: Knock the oven’s temperature down to 375. And take your chicken out of the fridge so it drops down to room temp.
3. Make the Breadcrumb Mixture
Place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl.
Brown 3 tablespoons of butter. Pour that over the breadcrumbs. Toss well. Add in the parsley and 1 tbs thyme, toss again. Set aside.
4. Make your shallot reduction sauce
Bring your sautee pan to medium heat, and melt 2 tablespoons butter in it. When the butter foams, add 1/2 cup shallots, THE GARLIC (6 cloves, chopped), and 1 tsp thyme. Sautee about two minutes until shallots are translucent. Add the remaining 1/2 cup vermouth (or more wine, if you’re like me and already blew your vermouth reserves) and reduce by half. Transfer to a bowl and let cool a few minutes.
5. Turn that into a dijon sauce
Whisk in the 1/2 cup mustard, 1 egg, 2 tsp chopped tarragon, and a pinch of black pepper. Set aside.
6. Brown the chicken
Bring your sautee pan back up to high heat. Throw out the chicken’s marinade, pat the chicken dry, and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Give the pan a glug or two of olive oil, and let that heat up.
Sautee the chicken, skin-side-down for 8-10 minutes (the skin should be deep golden brown). Flip and cook an additional minute or two.
7. Dredge the chicken in the dijon sauce
Dunk each piece in the dijon sauce with tongs.
8. Place chicken on top of braised leeks in baking dish.
These probably didn’t need to be separate steps, but this is where the smitten kitchen recipe got dicey for me and I had to re-read 10 times. So I’m being very very clear.
9. Cover the dredged chicken with the breadcrumbs
Grab a handful of the breadcrumb mixture that’s been waiting in the wings, and pat it on top of your chicken. Make sure there’s a good, thick covering of crumbs on top of each piece.
10. Pour whatever dijon sauce you’ve got left over the whole deal
11. Deglaze the pan and pour that over the whole deal
Whether you want to use stock, water or wine, deglaze the pan (pour about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of liquid in your still-hot-but-not-currently-on-a-live-burner sautee pan, and use a spatula to scrape up all the bits of goodness that have married themselves there over the course of the evening) and pour that sauce over your dish(es). If you’ve got any breadcrumbs left, toss them on as well.
12. Actually cook the sucker
Bake 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Smitten Kitchen says, “to check for doneness, pierce the meat near the bone with a paring knife; when ready, the juices from the chicken will run clear.” But in this recipe, with a saucy bed of braised leeks and a trillion different sauces on top of the chicken, it’s kind of hard to tell when that’s happened. So I relied on my meat thermometer and cooked the chicken till it reached 165 degrees internally. It was incredibly moist and tender and perfect. As it’s approaching donenness, turn the oven up to 475 for just a few minutes more to brown the breadcrumbs.
13. Wonder while eating this moist, perfect tasting creation whether or not it was worth the effort
I think that the answer is, yes. But only if you really want to make an activity out of the cooking. It was incredibly delicious, but not necessarily special occasion delicious. Mostly because it’s not pretty on the plate, and I don’t usually associate chicken with special occasions. But this was a remarkably tasty chicken dish that I’d happily eat again and again (and I can testify that the leftovers are great; verging-on-better-than-the-original great).
I’ll add some so-so pictures to this post once I take them off of my camera. Most of them are from the perspective of, “can you believe how many freakin things you have to do to make this chicken?!?! Just count all those bowls!”