Friday, November 6, 2009

Braised chicken with tomatoes and artichoke hearts

I was going to call this chicken cacciatora, or hunter's style chicken. And in some ways, that's not a bad name, since the idea behind chicken cacciatora is to use up whatever you have on hand. Go ahead. Google it. The only common ingredients you'll find behind most recipes are chicken and tomatoes. And maybe garlic.

So, I decided for the sake of clarity to call this dish braised chicken with tomatoes and artichokes, because that's what I happened to have on hand, though it would be equally delicious with eggplant or zucchini or almost any kind of mushrooms. (Yes, I sort of made this recipe up, but one of the great things about it is that it's so incredibly versatile. Once you get the basic technique down, you can substitute all over the darn place.)

I started with this:

Boneless skinless chicken thighs (though you could use a whole cut-up chicken)
1 can peeled plum tomatoes
1 can quartered artichoke hearts (in their own juice; not marinated)
1 onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
3-4 celery ribs, chopped
Salt, pepper to taste

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and thyme. I like kosher salt for cooking. (I have no idea why.) Then swirl some olive oil in a heavy pan. I used this much:


Heat it up and add the chicken. The idea right now is not to cook the chicken through, but to give it some nice color and to let all those yummy tidbits collect in the bottom of the pan. I browned my chicken for about 7-8 minutes per side.

Remove the chicken and set it aside. Throw the chopped onion, celery and garlic into the pan. As the onion and celery start to sweat, they'll pick up color and flavor from the bottom of the pan. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is nearly translucent.

Now, comes the fun part. Open a bottle of wine. (If you don't have any wine, use the juice from the tomatoes.) Add enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan and stir it around over a good high heat, scraping all the brown tidbits (is there a name for this?) from the bottom. Layer in the chicken and whole tomatoes. You'll need to use your hands to break the tomatoes apart. You want them broken up, but not chopped or crushed. When it looks like you have enough tomato, stop—and save the rest in the fridge for another day. (I used about half of the can for five chicken thighs).

Next, toss in the artichoke hearts, carrots and the rest of the seasonings. Add enough liquid to cover the chicken and most of the vegies. Remember, if you don't have wine, use the juice from the tomatoes or the artichokes—and if you do have wine, don't add too much. You're better off using some wine and some juice for flavor. The rule of thumb in braising is enough liquid to cover about half of the ingredients. It will look like this:

Cover the pan, and if your pans are oven-safe, like mine are, you can finish cooking it at 350 until the meat is fork tender. If your pan is stovetop-only, finish cooking over a medium heat for as long as it takes the chicken to cook through and become tender. I left mine in the oven a little over an hour. While it finishes cooking, check the liquid a couple times and if need be, add a little more juice from the tomatoes or even water. And, of course, here's where you can taste and adjust the seasonings.

I like the way the oven surrounds the pan with an even heat, so I prefer that method, even for my pot roasts. I'm pretty sure this would also work in a slow cooker. You might need to adjust the liquid at the start, but I would still brown the meat first and then transfer to the crock pot.

I served this over rice, but pasta would also be good. (On Monday, I'll show you how I make rice. It's foolproof. And delicious, and the women in my family have been making it this way for a few centuries, so in addition to it being a crowd-pleaser, it's a time-tested method.)

Okay, here's the recap:
  1. season chicken
  2. brown chicken, set aside
  3. saute onion and celery and garlic
  4. add a little liquid, scraping the pan as you stir
  5. layer in chicken, tomatoes, vegies and seasoning
  6. add more liquid
  7. cover and cook until chicken is fork tender
For a cold day, this is a nice hearty meal, but it's also one of those meals you can fancy up a bit for company. And I love that. I'm all about versatility in the kitchen.

And, in case you are wondering, my son, who typically refuses any food that is cooked in combination with other food, was willing to taste the chicken (after I made sure there was no tomato clinging to it), two carrots and a couple spoons of rice. After which he asked for a bowl of cereal. And since the new rule in our house is: if you taste it and don't like it, you can have frosted flakes (I know, I'm weak), I'm still calling it a win.

Do you have a go-to chicken dish, one that uses up what's in the fridge or requires little more than stocked pantry items? If so, tell us about it.


  1. Those yummy bits in the bottom of the pan are called "fond". It's French for "bottom" but I like to remember it bc I am especially fond of nibbling on those yummy bits directly from the spoon!

    Wondering what I have on hand that I could make this tonight since I'm stuck at homne with a sick little boy.

  2. My favorite laugh-inducing line? "If you don't have any wine . . . " That has NEVER occurred in my house, and, man, if it did, alarm sirens would be sounding.

    Oh my.

    Well, back on topic--the recipe sounds great. Can't wait to make it.

    As for your fool-proof rice method . . . do you bake yours like I do?

  3. Judy, I'm intriqued! Baked rice? I don't, but sounds like I should. Check back on Monday, I'd love to hear your how-to in the comments.

  4. Mmmm. (That's going to be my "go to" comment on t his blog.)

  5. I married at age 55. My husband was a meat and potatoes man. I would make dinner and if he didn't like it after he tried it he could have a peanut butter and jelly on toast.

    If I made a crazy chicken dish like my Voodoo Chicken I made sure I had a chicken breast cooking in back of the oven for him. I knew he wouldn't eat it. I love trying new recipes but since he died I rarely cook.