Saturday, January 2, 2016

Recipe 1 from the New York Times 20 Best of 2015 - Braised Chicken With Lemon and Olives

Braised Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives over Polenta with a side of Braised Kale

Tonight I made the first of the twenty New York Times Cooking Best 20 of 2015 recipes.  It was delicious!

I stuck faithfully to the recipe with these exceptions:  I used jarred preserved lemons instead of Meyer Lemons  and I thickened the juices into a more viscous sauce with a cornstarch and chicken stock slurry.

Here are the recipes:


8 chicken thighs, skin-on and bone-in, about 3 1/2 pounds
 Salt and pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
1 tablespoon roughly chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 Meyer lemons, cut in wedges (I used 2 jarred preserved lemons)
1 cup flavorful olives with pits, a mixture of black and green, about 1 pound
(I used a mix of black and green Bella di Cerignola and purple Alfonso Olives)
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

cornstach and chicken stock to thicken juices.


1 16 ounce bag of washed, chopped kale greens (I used Glory brand)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 cups of chicken stock


2 cups chicken stock (or water)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup yellow polenta or cornmeal (I used quick cooking)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


1.  Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Season well with salt and pepper and place in an earthenware baking dish in one layer, skin side up. Sprinkle with red pepper, garlic, fennel and rosemary and drizzle with olive oil. Rub seasoning into thighs on all sides. Tuck lemon wedges here and there. Let marinate for 15 minutes. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

I dried the thighs and then put them on a plastic wrap covered baking sheet to spice as opposed to spicing them in the baking pan but was mainly for blogging purposes.

I distributed the spices evenly on the thighs, topped with the minced garlic and then drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil.

I was afraid that the amount of spices was not enough but it was quite adequate and nicely fragrant.

I used 2 jarred preserved lemons from Sur La Table as opposed to fresh Meyer Lemon.

I did add the olives and lemon right to the dish before roasting which is a bit before the recipe states - no harm done and it all came out great.

It's a very eye-appealing dish even before cooking!

2.  Put baking dish in oven, uncovered, and roast until skin browns lightly, about 20 minutes. Scatter olives evenly over chicken and add broth. Cover tightly and bake for 1 hour, until meat is very tender when probed with a skewer.

I roasted it for 20 minutes at 375 F. uncovered as stated on my oven's Convection Roast setting.

Great smell and slight browning of the spices before adding the chicken stock and covering with foil to bake for an hour.

3.  Remove thighs and lemon wedges and arrange on a platter. Keep warm. Pour pan juices into a saucepan and quickly skim fat from surface. Over high heat, simmer rapidly until reduced by half. Spoon juices over chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

You can see how much juice is in the pan - when there was 8 minutes cooking time left, I uncovered the dish and drained as much of the pan juice into a saucepan.  I had about a scant 2 cups of juices.  I then put the pan back in for the remaining 8 minutes uncovered as I finished the dish.


A.  I brought the drained pan juices to a rolling boil in a small saucepan and after a few minutes, I brought it down to a low simmer.

B.  I then made a slurry of cold chicken stock and cornstarch - probably a 1/3 cup of broth to about a 1/4 cup of cornstarch.  I whisked it smooth and added the slurry bit by bit into the hot simmering juices until I had a consistency that I liked.


A.  Heat a large frying pan or wok and add the olive oil and kale greens.

B.  Toss kale quickly until bright green then add 1 cup of chicken stock and cover.

C.  Simmer on low heat covered, tossing periodically until chicken and polenta are done.


A.  Put the stock and the cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Slowly pour the polenta into the hot liquid, whisking briskly to prevent clumping. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.

B.  Add the cheese and butter, stirring gently until incorporated.


Place a dollop of the soft polenta in the dish - I used a large shallow bowl.

Arrange a couple of the chicken thighs, olives and lemon slice on the polenta.

Add the braised kale.

Pour some of the thickened sauce over the chicken, olives and polenta.

The finished dish with the sauce and some chopped parsley.

Tender, flavorful chicken and polenta in a light garlic sauce with a touch of herbs and lemon.


My plan is to make each of the "20 Best" dishes as written and then to make any personal changes based on the original dish.  

In the case of the Braised Chicken With Lemon and Olives; I would make it exactly the same.  The chicken thighs were cooked perfectly and the meat was tender, flavorful and juicy.  The sauce was lightly garlicky with bright herbal notes and a subtle background hint of lemon citrus.  The dish was perfect with the soft cheese and cream rich polenta and braised kale.

While I liked the preserved lemon in the dish, I think Meyer lemon or even a common grocery lemon would work perfectly fine for what it added to the dish.  It had a very subtle lemon flavor which I liked since I am not a heavy lemon fan.  The crushed fennel and the tablespoon of chopped rosemary were perfect - I would not use dried in place of fresh rosemary in this dish.  The olives I used were Italian:   a mix of black and green Bella di Cerignola and purple Alfonso Olives.

This dish is a keeper - perfect for an intimate dinner or large dinner party.

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