When I originally posted this recipe on Free Culinary School, it was a throw away post. I never thought that simple, braised chicken thighs would ever garner so much attention. It turned out to be my most re-created recipe and most commented post.
Braised chicken thighs are by far one of my favorite things to cook and eat. Working as a chef in an upscale restaurant, serving things like duck pate, prime beef and sous-vide yada yada up the yin yang, all I want to eat on my days off is something simple and comforting. For me, braised chicken thighs always does the trick.
In one of my forum posts I asked the readers to play a game with me, a little game called "the death row meal". It is a game that chefs and cooks have been playing for centuries, a good ice breaker to find out what a fellow food lover is all about.
Well, for me, this is it. If I were to die tomorrow, this is what I would eat tonight. Chicken thighs are the most used muscle of the animal, making it full or all sorts of great flavor. You see, the more exercise an animal’s muscle gets, the more connective tissue and collagen it is able to build up. This makes the cut of meat tough if cooked incorrectly (read seared rare), but if cooked low and slow in a braising liquid, all that collagen and tissue breaks down into gastronomic heaven!
How To Braise Chicken Thighs
Start by searing the chicken over medium-high heat, skin side down in a heavy bottom sauté pan, and then flip it over when the skin becomes a beautiful golden brown. The crispy skin is 80% of my motivation to eat chicken in the first place and is the secret to any great chicken dish.
Once the chicken skin is nice and crispy, remove it from the pan and set aside.
Place chopped mushrooms in the bottom of the pan with a nice large pat of butter. The moisture from the mushrooms and the butter will help to “deglaze” the pan, loosening all the nummy little chicken bits stuck to the bottom. Cook the mushrooms and butter, seasoning with a little sea salt, until they start to soften and brown.
Once the moisture from the butter and mushrooms has almost evaporated, finish the deglazing process by adding some good balsamic vinegar, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Red wine also works great, but that just means less for you to drink later.
Reduce balsamic by half.
Once the balsamic vinegar has reduced by half, add in a bunch of blanched garlic. Now, looking at the pictures below, you might think that this is garlic overload, but it's not. If you blanch the garlic first, it will soften and become extremely mild, making your dish permeate garlic without it’s harsh, pungent taste.
Stir the mushrooms, garlic and balsamic together until all the ingredients get a chance to know each other.
After the above ingredients have gotten good and acquainted, add in enough chicken stock to cover the thighs by 3/4s, leaving only the skin exposed.
Like I said before, there is nothing better than good, crispy, chicken skin, and soaking them in braising liquid for an hour ruins all the hard work that it took to get them to that beautiful state in the first place. Notice in the picture below, the chicken thighs are carefully nestled in the pan so that the whole thigh is covered except for the skin. This is the secret to perfectly braised chicken thighs!
Once you have all the chicken thighs submerged in the braising liquid, bring it to a simmer on your stove top and then place into a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the thighs.
When the thighs have braised for about an hour, pull them out of the oven and remove the chicken thighs from the pan, setting them aside on a clean plate for later.
Place the sauté pan back on your stove top and turn your burner to medium-high heat and allow the braising liquid to reduce by about 3/4s or until it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
When your sauce has reduced down to the proper consistency, add in a couple handfuls of fresh spinach and stir until it wilts, as shown in the pictures below. If your chicken has cooled off too much, add them back into the pan briefly to bring them back up to temp.
Finish the dish by placing two chicken thighs per person on a plate over freshly steamed rice. Spoon the spinach, mushroom and garlic jus over the chicken, and thank God you had some balsamic in your cupboard so that you didn’t have to use any of that nice red wine that you’re about to enjoy!