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Sunday Suppers: Moroccan-Spiced Braised Chicken

We launched our Sunday Suppers tradition last weekend with an absolutely delicious braised chicken dish from none other than “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” by Suzanne Goin. Granted it was prepared and served on a Monday, not Sunday, but it was a holiday. Still counts, right? Dear friends joined us for the meal and it was beloved by all, including the little ones.

I loved this recipe for so many reasons and wanted to share it with all of you. First of all, for a restaurant-quality main course, it was surprisingly low-key to make at home. This adapted recipe will hopefully smooth out the kinks I experienced and make it even simpler.

Second, no one can argue with the ease of braising – provided you have a large ovenproof pot and a bit of time, you are guaranteed to end up with a tender, deliciously moist result, especially if you use legs and thighs. Our family is slowly learning to love dark meat, and this recipe is sure to become a standard in the repertoire.

More importantly, thighs and legs are the most affordable cuts of chicken, especially when compared to boneless/skinless breasts. This makes buying organic or sustainably-produced options that much easier. Here is more information on why it is so important to buy sustainably-produced chicken and how to do so without breaking the budget.

I served the chicken alongside the Italian couscous suggested in the original recipe, which was an interesting but not beloved choice. I would stick with a regular cous cous, which will be a perfect compliment to the Moroccan-inspired flavors. Add a vegetable side dish (I made a chicory salad with fennel, toasted almonds and satsuma slices) and you’re all set.

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Adult version, with hot sauce

Make-Your-Own Chicken Tacos

One of our favorite go-to weeknight dinners is chicken tacos. This is easily a 60 minute or less meal, including time to marinate the chicken breasts. I like to keep 4-6 chicken breasts frozen and on hand at all times. You can either leave them out in the morning to gently defrost throughout the day or soak them in hot water just before use. Fresh is great too, of course, but running to the store last-minute is not often an alternative for me. The rest of the core ingredients tend to be in the pantry in our house almost all the time – limes, onions, corn tortillas, avocados and a few basic spices. During the summer months when bell peppers are in season, these can easily be turned into fajitas too.

Preparation

Serves 4 + a bit of leftovers

30 minutes prep time (including marinade), 45 minutes total cooking time

Whisk the juice of 1-2 limes, ¼ cup of olive oil, 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic, ½ teaspoon paprika, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and a pinch of cayenne (or more, to taste) until combined. Butterfly (cut horizontally across breast to make one thick breast into two thinner pieces) two chicken breasts (about 1 pound of meat), place in a non-reactive pan (glass Pyrex works great here) and drizzle with marinade. Sprinkle chicken with freshly-ground pepper and dried oregano on both sides. Move chicken around in the marinade to ensure both sides are properly covered and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. If you have less time, that is OK too.

Grill chicken on the stove top in a grill pan or cast iron pan, or outdoors if possible. These thinner pieces should cook in about 5-7 minutes per side. Let the chicken rest on a cutting board for 2-3 minutes once it is cooked to seal in the juices, then slice thinly.

Warm tortillas in the oven or on the stove top.

Mash 1-2 avocados with a bit of lime juice and a pinch of salt and pepper for a quick guacamole.

If desired, sautéed one onion, chopped lengthwise, with about a teaspoon of cumin seeds in good olive oil. Do the same with bell peppers if in season (I prefer to cook the onions and peppers separately since one takes longer that the others). Quick hint: toast cumin seeds in olive oil first before adding the vegetables. This simple saute is a create opportunity to recruit kiddo assistance!

I like to serve all of the components separately and have the kids (and adults) make their own tacos to taste.

Adult version, with hot sauce

Ava's "kid's" version, with extra onions

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Chicken Soup

One of the rewards of roasting a simple, delicious chicken at home (see this post), besides the great leftover options, is that you can use the carcass to make a quart or two of wonderful broth that will elevate any future soup and stew you make. I can usually squirrel away some broth into the freezer but inevitably (and much to my delight, being the Jewish mom that I am) one of my girls will ask for a dinner of chicken soup as soon as they see it. Lately, we end up doing roast chicken one night, leftover chicken for lunch and possibly dinner the next day, and chicken soup another night the same week. Sounds like poultry overload as I write but it somehow works.

Broth Preparation

  • 1 roast chicken carcass, all meat and skin removed (reserve meat for leftover/soup, toss the skin)
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, cut in large chunks
  • 3 carrots, cut in large chunks
  • 1-2 leeks if desired
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • a small handful of peppercorns
  • 1-2 tbsp sea salt or kosher salt
  • 5-7 parsley sprigs

Combine the above in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. The chicken should be completely covered by 1-2 inches of water ideally. Bring to a boil then simmer for 1-2 hours, depending on preference. The longer you simmer, the richer the broth. I prefer my broth simple, but feel free to add other herbs and spices as you desire. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours, which allows the fat to collect at the top. Strain cold broth through a fine mesh strainer into either a new pot if you are making chicken soup right away or into storage containers. Refrigerate or freeze as desired.

Chicken Soup – Serves 4

  • leftover roasted chicken OR 2 grilled chicken breasts (about 1 pound) or equivalent boneless, skinless thighs
  • 2 quarts chicken broth/more or less depending on preference and need
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stock, finely chopped
  • noodles or rice
  • finely chopped parsley if on hand
  • avocado, cilantro, finely chopped onion if desired

I like to grill boneless cuts of chicken quickly on the stovetop to serve as the base for my chicken soup, though you could also poach the chicken, or stew it. Once the chicken is cooked, add the chopped carrots and celery to the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add your choice of rice or noodles (if using brown rice, cook it separately and add toward the end of preparation, once carrots and celery are desired softness) and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add chicken, cook for another 5 minutes, garnish with chopped parsley and serve. You can’t go wrong with this simple treat but I especially love the Mexican version with chopped avocado, onion, cilantro and rice.

Serve with a good crusty bread for a simple weeknight dinner.

Roast Chicken with Veggies

Favorite Roast Chicken (aka Flickin’ Chicken)

Someone once said that the greatness of a chef should be determined by the taste of their roast chicken. It could’ve been Tom Colicchio of Top Chef, during a most memorable Season Two episode when the awesome Elia seriously impressed all of the judges with her version of said main course.

My relationship with roast chicken started during the early years, with my mother’s version which tends to be moist and tender but lack the accompanying crispness that is the holy grail. I spent most of my 20’s as a social carnivore, happy to partake in all things meat and poultry when someone else makes them (especially if that someone else is an experience restaurant chef). But at some point during my first pregnancy, at a time when I generally started to feel more “adult”, I decided it was high time to tackle the roast chicken challenge. The recipe details escape me, but I distinctly recall it being a fairly low-brow affair, as good friends sat around our coffee table courteously and cautiously sampling the results. Disastrous is a strong word but I would say that this chicken was pretty darn close. I gave up for the next few years.

Then, a good friend introduced me to the ways of Zuni roast chicken. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of sampling this delectable entrée at one of SF’s most venerable restaurants, I highly recommend doing so. And if you are nowhere near SF, go ahead and try making it at home – with the panzanella salad if time permits. We gave it a go several times over the course of a year. The results were fabulous – but the lead time is 48+ hours because that is the required salting time. And these days, with two young kids and a two-career household, that level of planning is damn near impossible. So Zuni chicken was a rare treat. But by then my older daughter was hooked on what she started calling “flickin’ chicken.” Her version of finger-lickin’ perhaps, it’s a term that has landed in the family lexicon.

Flickin’ Chicken was requested almost weekly all of a sudden so I had to come up with a plan that didn’t require too much prep time, was flexible in terms of flavor and yielded delicious results of course. Enter that fateful Epicurious search for roast chicken and Thomas Keller. I know most people don’t associate Thomas Keller with simple home cooking but he delivers with Simple Roast Chicken. My slightly adapted version is included here. Feel free to add whatever herbs/stuffing you see fit. The brilliant part is that anything works with the basic technique, be it thyme, sage, lemon and rosemary or thyme/sage with mirepoix inside the cavity. But remember, the simpler the stuffing and herb combo, the better to use the cooked carcass for homemade chicken stock, which I view as a major reward for taking the time to roast my own bird.

The key to a successful execution here is a combo of proper salting (Kosher salt is my favorite for this purpose), trussing the bird, and using high heat. If I do decide to plan ahead and buy the bird in advance of cooking, I always dry it, salt it and throw it in the fridge until about 30 minutes before putting it in the oven. But this is not a must, just an extra (and a good reminder to pre-salt any chicken you make. You’d be surprised how delicious even simple grilled chicken breasts will taste if they are pre-salted for 30 minutes or an hour).

Flickin’ Chicken, adapted from Thomas Keller’s Simple Roast Chicken (2004) on Epicurious.com

Preparation

  • One 2- to 3-pound chicken, preferably sustainably raised and/or organic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Paprika (adds a bit of color)
  • Several sprigs of thyme, sage, rosemary; lemon halves; all optional
  • 2-3 sticks of carrot and celery, ½ an onion cut into two pieces.
  • Kitchen twine

Preheat the oven to 450°F for at least 30 minutes. This is best cooked in a shallow pan – a cast iron skillet works great, as does a stainless steel sauté pan. Go ahead and set the pan in the over for about 15 minutes right before roasting as well.

Dry the chicken very well with paper towels, inside and out. A dry bird means the less it will steam. With roasting, the drier the heat, the better the result

Salt and pepper the cavity, stuff the bird with the mirepoix (the carrot and celery sticks plus onion). If you want to lift the skin over the breast and create a pocket for herbs, this is the next step. But it is optional. Use lemon or orange in the cavity if you like instead of the mirepoix. Then truss the bird (this is a KEY step). Trussing is not difficult, but YouTube always helps. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and makes for a more attractive result.


Now, salt the exterior of the chicken—a nice uniform coating will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (a couple of teaspoons of Kosher salt is sufficient). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper and sprinkle a bit of paprika over the top.

Place the chicken in a sauté pan or roasting pan that has been warming in the over (careful, it will be HOT) then put the chicken in the oven. At this point, you have the pleasure of leaving said bird alone for the 50-60 minutes it will take to roast to perfection. There is no need to baste it or slather it with butter/olive oil, which will just create the unwanted steam. If you are using a larger bird (over 3 lbs ) you may need to add 10-15 more minutes of roasting time. When it is done, remove the bird from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes or so on a cutting board. Some juices will release – feel free to baste with those. If you like, add some fresh chopped herbs and white wine to the roasting pan to deglaze and make a simple sauce.
Serve with a side dish of your choice. In our house, Flickin’ Chicken comes with a variety of sides, including mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, baked sweet potato fries, rice, quinoa, salad, Brussels sprouts, etc.