Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Braised Chicken with Saffron Onions and Couscous

I happened to come across Suzanne Goin's cookery book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table, in my search for understanding and using seasonal ingredients in my cooking. I was getting tired of going to the supermarket because everything looks the same all year long, and anything that is considered organic costs an arm and a leg. Now that I go to the Long Beach Farmers' Market, I am able to purchase organic, seasonal produce that costs me no more than regular supermarket shopping for fruit and vegetables. Most people who read this blog are probably very serious foodies who do this already, but I have to say it has made a marked difference in the kitchen. I get such a buzz from knowing that what I make in the week is dependent on what is best at the market, instead of counting on supermarket regulars that quite often make me feel despondent.

Sunday Suppers at Lucques is organized by season, and though each dish does not necessarily require something unusual or unique to the season (as this one does not), each dish certainly captures the mood of the season. The braised chicken is as red as Autumn leaves, and the saffron onions and couscous are of the gorgeous orange and yellows that mark glorious autumnal sunsets. This meal begs you to eat it, and it is enough for six, or the night we had it, it was enough for a greedy three!

Braised Chicken with Saffron Onions and Couscous
(From Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table)

For the braised chicken:

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
6 chicken legs with thighs attached
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, sliced
1 chile de arbol, crumbled
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup onion, sliced
1 cup fennel, sliced
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup sherry
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup cilantro (coriander)

1) Toast cumin seeds in a pan for a few mintues until fragrant and lightly browned.
2) Pound cumin seeds in a mortar.
3) Repeat steps 1) and 2) with the coriander seeds.
4) Place chicken in large bowl with garlic, thyme, parsley, chile, cumin, coriander, and paprika. Toss chicken and spices together to coat chicken well.
5) Cover chicken and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but it is best if left overnight.
6) Season chicken with salt and pepper.
7) Preheat oven to 325 deg. f. (170 deg. c.).
8) Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes.
9) Swirl in the olive oil and wait 1 minute.
10) Place chicken legs in saute pan skin side down and cook 8-10 minutes until golden brown and cripsy, occasionally swriling oil around the pan.
11) Turn chicken over, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 2 minutes.
12) Arrange chicken in a braising dish in one layer.
13) Pour off some fat and return saute pan to medium heat.
14) Add onion, fennel, and bay leaves, which are to be cooked for 6-7 minutes, stirred often until caremelized.
15) Add tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon.
16) Add sherry vinegar, white wine, and sherry.
17) Turn up heat and reduce liquid to half.
18) Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.
19) Add cilantro and pour broth and vegetables over the chicken in the brasing dish, making sure the liquid does not entirely cover the chicken.
20) Cover the pan very tightly with plastic wrap and then aluminium foil.
21) Braise in oven for 1.5-2 hours.
22) To check for doneness, pierce chicken with a paring knife. Meat will give easily if done.
23) Turn oven up to 400 deg. f. (200 deg. c.), then transfer chicken to a baking sheet and return to oven to brown for 10 minutes.
24) Strain broth into saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables with a ladle to fully extract the juices.

For the couscous:

2.5 cups couscous
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and black pepper

1) Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat.
2) Add couscous and cook 8-10 minutes until tender but still al dente.
3) Drain couscous, return it to the pot, and toss with butter, parsley, and a pinch of pepper. Taste for seasoning.

For the saffron onions:

1 teaspoon saffron threads
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cups onions, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 chile de arbol, crumbled
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Toast saffron threads in pan over medium heat until they are just dry and brittle.
2) Pound saffron with a pestle in a mortar to a fine powder.
3) Dab a tablespoons of butter in the powder, using butter to pick up the saffron.
4) Heat a large saute pan or Dutch oven over medium heat for 2 minutes.
5) Add olive oil, remaining butter, and saffron.
6) When butter foams, add onions, bay leaf, chile, thyme, 1.5 teaspoons salt, and some pepper, and cook for 8-10 minutes until the onions wilt.
7) Turn heat down low, and cook another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are sweet. Taste for seasoning.

As for the plating, the couscous forms the base, topped in the center with the saffron onions, onto which is placed the chicken. Ladle some of the juices over the chicken. The dish is nutty, spicy, sweet, fragrant...everything you could ever want on a cold Autumn's night.

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Hi Shaun! I look forward to hearing about your experiments with Roast Figs Sugar Snow. The cold weather comes around a bit quicker over here in England so I put away the summer cookbooks and pulled out the winter ones about 3 months ago! I'm planning on making the Pot Roast Chicken with Cider soon too. Not sure if you have it over there, but Tamasin Day-Lewis has her own TV show on our equivelent of the food network and whilst she's not as glamourous as, say, Nigella Lawson, her recipes are completely sound and grounded in good common sense. Also,they look quite impressively complex when they aren't! Tamasin's Kitchen Bible is highly recommended as are any of her Tart books. But the Simply the Best one is dreamy to look at too!
Good luck! Freya
Freya - I'm fascinated with the nuts chapter in Diane Henry's book because I have never cooked with chestnuts. I'm eager to try something this Thanksgiving. I have also ordered Tamasin's Kitchen Bible, and I am presently in love with her latest, "Tamasin's Kitchen Classics". I should start posting reviews...I'm thinking of making her poached pears dessert from "Simply the Best" tonight...
If you're keen on using chestnuts this thanksgiving, instead of making the usual Pumpkin Pie (but still using a 'natural' ingredient, a Mont Blanc is a stunning dessert. If you have How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella, I think she might have a recipe for it in there. I made mini ones for a dinner party once and it was a real hit. How did the Poached Pears go? Tamasin's Kitchen Bible is great too - the only trouble is where to start...Happy Thanksgiving!
Hi Shaun

This looks really good. I've been lucky enough to gain possession of some Kashmiri saffron and am very tempted to use some in this dish...

Freya - Thanks for the Mont Blanc suggestion. I do indeed have Nigella's "How to be a Domestic Goddess" (I'm sure you and I have all the same books!), but I just couldn't picture the result as I read through her recipe. I had it on the back burner as I went to the local farmers' market before Thanksgiving, but I turned back because the market didn't operate on account of the long weekend! Oh well. We don't get Tamasin's show in the US, but we get it in NZ (Eric and I were there on holiday in May, and that was when I first heard about her). I'm soooo looking forward to the arrival of "Tamasin's Kitchen Bible".

Jasmine - This dish is so very flavorful, but truthfully I'm always wary of using saffron. It just never seems to pack enough of a punch for me. Though lovely and sweet as the onions were with the saffron, the chicken was the best thing about the meal.
Hi Shaun, what a lovely site!

For saffron, try Deborah Madison's Roasted Eggplant soup with Saffron Mayonnaise - the best, even though I'm not a veggie

Tamasin's a lovely writer, for other books, Paula Wolfert sounds up your alley, also Patricia Wells. Some favourites are Claudia Roden's Jewish Food (Nigella loves this, easy to see why - even Indian Jewish Food), Madeleine Kamman, Di Holuigues French Kitchen (out of print I think) and (of course) Elizabeth David's Summer Cooking (remade the fish with vermouth and grapes the other day after many years, gee that took me back). The original Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook can't be beat either (not so keen on the later Chez Panisse books).

Hope to hear more about your work in that kitchen, Eric must be a happy fella with all this cooking. I love cold climes too and live in the Blue Mountains in NSW with my partner but it's not as cold as NZ....


Jonno ~ What a wonderfully enthusiastic comment - and how great it is that you're a fellow antipodean. I'm not vegetarian either but find myself yearning for more fruit and veggies as I get older (or as I become more aware of how great they are in the first instance and not the stodgy or plain boiled products I was force-fed), so I like the sound of the Deborah Madison recipe to which you refer - and I have one of her great books already (she is incredibly knowledgable). It seems we like the same authors and have the same books...would love to hear more of you recommendations. I have (too?) many cookery books and have not committed to making enough from each of them before buying more. I have the original Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook and love Chez Panisse Desserts...Oh, Jonno, so many recipes and so little time! Thank you for stopping by!!
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