Learning to Cook with 'Basically 10x10': Recipe 4
There’s a first time for everything, they say. And this? This was my first time braising and honestly my first time cooking a chicken thigh (or any bone-in meat, for that matter). I had a lot of concerns about this recipe - a lot of people left comments on Basically stating the chicken stuck to the pan or the sauce was too watery...so I was nervous. I really didn’t have any of these issues and found it to be pretty easy and straightforward to follow. All in all, it was a journey, I learned a lot of techniques, and you’ll learn more about that below. In the end, I came out winning with a really yummy dinner (and lunch the next day).
**Assistance images from Basically
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 1½ lb. total) ** 6 chicken thighs is A LOT for my household - I, instead, cooked four and it was the perfect amount. I’m using the remaining two chicken thighs in a chicken chili recipe I’m cooking over the weekend.
2 Tbsp. plus ½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
2 medium red onions
3 garlic cloves
1 2" piece fresh ginger
2 Tbsp. curry powder, such as garam masala
1 13.5-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
3 small sweet potatoes, scrubbed ** You peel these, so I’m not sure why I had to scrub them, but alas...
½ cup large unsweetened coconut flakes
A small handful of cilantro
Basmati or jasmine rice (for serving) ** I went with Jasmine rice, cooked perfectly in my rice cooker
What You’ll Need
Rimmed baking sheet
1. Preheat oven to 300°. Pat 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Moisture is the enemy of well-browned meat, so it's super important to get them as dry as possible before searing them. Season generously on all sides with 1 Tbsp. salt.
2. Okay, this is going to seem a little bit out there, but trust us: It works. Place a cold, dry large Dutch oven on the stove—no heat yet! Nestle all of your chicken thighs in there, skin side down, so that there is as much skin-to-pan contact as possible (it's fine if they're crowded together). Then turn the heat under the pan to medium. As the pan becomes hotter and hotter, the skin will start to release some of its fat and then get extra crispy and brown, a process that will probably take around 15–20 minutes. (Try not to fuss with the thighs too much while this is happening, just let them be. This is a good time to do some of the prep work outlined in the next few steps.) When the skin is deeply browned—we're only cooking the skin side right now—use tongs to transfer the thighs skin side up to a plate. Turn off the heat under the Dutch oven, but reserve it—we're going to build our braise in it, and we want all of that fat and any browned, stuck-on bits, which will lend richness and flavor to the finished dish.
** Note: Okay, here’s the deal. I was terrified to cook this recipe, and honestly really dreading it, because of the comments about the chicken sticking to the Dutch oven. Before giving this recipe a shot, I spent a lot of time reading about why this happened and came to the conclusion that folks were not chilling the Dutch oven enough (or perhaps not using one at all?). I let mine sit in the freezer for a good 30 minutes prior to cooking with it and my chicken didn’t stick to the pan at. all. Heed their advice and use a cold & dry Dutch oven. Upon turning on the heat, I left it alone for 20 minutes, at which point I discovered I was able to very easily remove my crispy, perfectly crusted chicken thighs from the pan...a first for me in so many ways!
3. While chicken is browning, do some prep: First, peel 2 onions and cut them in half through the root end. Slice 3 of the onion halves into 3 wedges each, and set the remaining half aside for later.
4. Smash 3 garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife and remove the peel.
5. Using a spoon, peel 2" piece ginger. (Peeling knobby ginger with a vegetable peeler is a pain, but a spoon can get into all of those little nooks and crannies much more easily. Use a Microplane to finely grate the ginger into a small bowl.
6. Cook onion wedges in the reserved pot—the same one you seared the chicken in—over medium heat, stirring often, until golden brown in spots and translucent, 4–6 minutes.
7. Now you're going to start building the base for your braise. First, add your garlic and ginger and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 2 Tbsp. curry powder, stirring to coat until fragrant, a minute or two more. Deglaze the pan by adding a splash of water, vigorously stirring to loosen and dissolve brown bits on bottom of the pot. Add half of coconut milk(shake it well before you open the can, as it can separate!), followed by 1 cup water. Bring the liquid up to a simmer.
8. Chicken time! Arrange the thighs, skin side up, in the Dutch oven so that the meat is partially submerged in the braising liquid. Cover and transfer to the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
9. While the chicken does its thing, you're going to make a zippy coconut condiment for spooning over the finished dish. (Who doesn't love a good topping?) Start by spreading ½ cup coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet and placing it in the oven along with the chicken. Bake coconut until golden brown, about 5 minutes—it'll go fast, so set a timer and keep an eye on it.
10. Now, finely chop the reserved half onion from earlier and transfer to a small bowl.
11. Finely grate zest of 1 lime into bowl of chopped onions. There's a ton of flavor in citrus peel, so it's always good to try to find a way to use it if you can. Cut the now-zested lime into wedges and squeeze the juice over onion mixture. Cut remaining lime into 4 wedges and save those for serving later.
12 .Cut off the bottom inch of stem from a small handful of cilantro, then finely chop up the stems until you get to the leaves; reserve leaves for serving. Add stems and toasted coconut to bowl with onion mixture (don’t toss the mixture just yet, otherwise the coconut will get soggy).
13. Peel 3 sweet potatoes and cut into 2" pieces.
14. After 30 minutes, uncover Dutch oven and add potatoes and remaining coconut milk. Use tongs to move things around so that the the vegetables are submerged underneath the chicken thighs, which you want to have arranged skin side up. Return the pot to the oven—uncovered this time—and cook until the sweet potatoes are soft enough that they can be pierced with a knife and the chicken is tender, another 15–30 minutes. (This is a good time to start your rice. If you don't have a rice cooker, this is our go-to stovetop rice cooking method.). After this amount of time, the chicken should be tender, juicy, and nicely cooked, but you can let it go for another 30-45 minutes if you're after a more shreddable, falling-apart tender result.
15. Meanwhile, toss coconut condiment with ½ tsp.salt.
16. And there you have it! Serve chicken thighs, curry sauce, and veggies over rice. Top with coconut condiment and reserved cilantro leaves, and serve with lime wedges alongside for squeezing.
17. Do Ahead: Braised chicken can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Reheat over low heat before serving.