Sunday's Stewed Chicken

Bring back Sunday dinner with this fabulous family-friendly dish. When searing the chicken, don't be afraid to let it get a really good sear — it should be dark brown, just shy of charred. A cast-iron dutch oven such as Lodge or Le Creuset makes is a big help here. When the chicken is done, you can either serve the braising liquid chunky like a stew or puréed and thickened like a gravy. Either way, don't waste it! Serve lots of bread, rice or potatoes with this dish. I also like to serve a few condiments like whole-grain Dijon mustard, hot sauce, Tomato-Berbere Relish, and Gremolata. Yields 4-6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 4 to 5 pound whole chicken, neck reserved
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 leeks (2 if very big)
  • 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Handful dried mushrooms such as shiitake or morel
  • 4 big sprigs rosemary
  • Big handful thyme sprigs
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature (optional, for beurre manié for gravy)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (optional, for beurre manié for gravy)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat an oven to 375°F and position the racks so a dutch oven will fit.
  2. Remove the backbone of the chicken and press on the breastbone to flatten. Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat with the oil and let it get smoking hot.
  3. Add the chicken, skin side down, and sear until very brown, almost charred, about 10 to 15 minutes. Flip and repeat (a splatter guard is helpful here). Also brown the neck and backbone, which has a lot of fat, collagen, and flavor.
  4. While the chicken is searing, grate or slice the celery and carrots (use a food processor with the grating disk if you have one; even just processing into chunks is faster than grating by hand). Halve then slice the leeks into half-moons, then rinse to wash out the grit and dry very well.
  5. Once the chicken is browned well on both sides, remove to a baking sheet. Carefully pour out all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat in the pan.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and add the celery, carrot, leeks, garlic, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned and cooked down, about 15 minutes. If the garlic falls out of its peel, just remove the peel.
  7. Add the white wine and scrape up the fond — the wine will reduce significantly within a couple minutes. Before it all evaporates, scatter in the mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves. Add 4 cups of stock, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.
  8. Add the the chicken, including neck and backbone, skin side up. If necessary, add more stock; the chicken should just be peeking up out of the stock, not completely submerged.
  9. Partially cover the dutch oven by sliding the lid off a couple inches and carefully transfer the vessel to the oven. Braise 35 minutes.
  10. If you want to make a gravy, combine the softened butter and flour into a smooth paste.
  11. Once time is up, remove from the oven and let the chicken rest in the braising liquid for 10 minutes.
  12. If making a gravy, remove the chicken from the liquid. Using an immersion blender or upright blender (be careful!), blend the braising liquid to a smooth purée. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois, pressing the liquid through the sieve using the back of a ladle and into a pot.
  13. Heat the pot over medium heat just under a boil and reduce by a third. If you want it thicker, vigorously whisk in half of the beurre manié. Tilt the pot to one side and really whisk hard to eliminate lumps. Return to a low boil and let cook at least another 5 minutes. If you want it thicker still, whisk in the rest of the beurre manié in the same fashion.
  14. To serve, carve the chicken into drumsticks, thighs, and wings. De-bone the breasts and slice into fourths at an angle. If serving the braising liquid like a stew, ladle the liquid around the chicken on a large platter. If serving the liquid as a gravy, serve the gravy on the side. Garnish with celery leaves.