I guess we turned the corner on the winter frost, but it’s not exactly shorts and summer dresses from here on out. I woke up this morning to see a gray scene unfolding outside my window. Trench coats, umbrellas, rain boots, temperatures in the low 40s, though I’ll take 40s any day over below freezing, especially after the snowy winter we’ve had. But I hear we’re not quite out of the forest yet – Andrew tells me there might be some snow come mid-March? If only we could pack-up that word along with all the sweaters and scarves and hats until next winter. Who’s with me?
On days like these, I just want to play indoors. I have endless cups of tea to keep me warm and cozy. I like to busy myself in the kitchen rummaging in the fridge and making soups and braise on these gray days because, frankly, that’s all I want to eat when it’s so monochromatic out. To me braising is cooking magic – the pixie dust of transformative power of cooking. You put raw ingredients into a pot, add some liquid for flavor: beer, wine, even water will do; add a few seasonings — and put a lid on the pot. And then, and this is an important step here, so pay attention, you walk away. The walking away part is key here – it’s precisely when you’re not hovering over the pot, that magic (inside the pot) happens. Things yield from tough to tender, grow soft, caramelize, sometimes they even start to disintegrate (never a bad thing). A few hours of slow, patient, gentle cooking – and you have something so fragrant, so meltingly-delicious, that you actually are grateful for days like these, when there’s nothing else to do but make a stew.
I’ve been playing around with beer braises all winter long. Lagers, pilsners, ales, stouts – depending on how strong a braise I want, what I’m braising – I switch things around as I feel out flavors. And lately I’ve fallen, hook, line, and sinker, for the dark lagers – like the one in the picture here. McSorley’s offers this malty, caramely flavor, but unlike a stout, it’s lighter and less imposing. It goes perfectly with the the dark meat of the chicken. Now, chicken braised in beer might not be the most traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, but why not give it consideration? The onions, potatoes, turnip,s and an Irish beer more than make up for the absence of corned beef and cabbage on your plate. Speaking of McSorley’s, I once spent a St. Patrick’s Day there and I can tell you that besides having the most fantastic time, saltines with cheddar, mustard, and onions are the most perfect accompaniment to beer – really!
I know that sunny, spring-like days are just around the corner – that jeans and blazer weather is almost upon us. But for now, I’ll savor the grayness, the clouds, the rain, and a bowl of this stew for dinner. It’ll pass the time quite nicely, I think.
Beer and Onion Braised Chicken
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, or olive oil
4 large chicken thighs with skin and bones
3/8 teaspoon ground allspice
2-3 medium onions, halved from root to stem, and thinly sliced
3 teaspoons (packed) dark brown sugar, divided
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup beer: ambers and dark lagers shine here (for a gluten-free recipe, use gluten-free beer)
1/2 cup beef stock
1 to 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1/2 pound small creamer potatoes
1 medium turnip, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
2 scallions, white parts only, chopped, for garnish
1. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and allspice. Add chicken to skillet and sauté until brown, about 4 minutes per side; transfer to plate.
2. Add onions and 2 teaspoons brown sugar to skillet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and sauté until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Mix in bay leaves, mustard, and remaining 1 teaspoon of sugar. Add chicken, skin side down, then beer, broth, and 1 teaspoon vinegar. Bring to boil.
3. Reduce heat to medium. Add carrots, potatoes and turnip. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Uncover skillet and simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickens, turning chicken occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and more vinegar, and garnish with scallion, if desired.