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The Bird is the Word-Part Deux; Week 12 of Chef School

The Bird is the Word-Part Deux; Week 12 of Chef School
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Photos by Cathy Arkle

Week two of poultry was an interesting class. Before every lecture, May asks us if we had any questions about last week’s info or recipes. Most of us try one or two of the recipes from that past week’s lesson as ‘homework’ to make sure we understand the techniques and ingredients used. After discussing these issues, May looked around and asked, “Everyone was here for last week’s lesson, right? Please say yes! We won’t have time for me to go over everything from last week AND cook this week’s dishes…” Luckily, all 12 of us were there.

The reason for this inquiry? BRAISING!! This week was all about the wet, slow cooking of poultry. Braising is a wet, low temperature cooking technique which tenderizes tough cuts of meat. Actually it’s just like stewing! Well, almost. With braising, the pieces of protein are bigger and have bones in them. Stewing has more liquid, but the gravy from braising has more richness and flavor because of the marrow and bones that add to it.

The best parts of the bird to use for this kind of cooking are the legs and thighs. You can use breast meat, but it takes much less time to cook, because of the leanness of the meat. If you choose to braise a whole bird, just take the breast meat out first. Personally, I take the skin off before braising. You’ll get a lot less fat in the dish….but you’ll also lose a little flavor, too.

Basically, this is how you braise anything:
1-Season the chicken
2-Brown it in batches, don’t crowd it and don’t move it! If it’s not brown enough, it will stick to the pan. Browning is important as it keeps much of the flavor in, much like searing does for steaks.
3-Flip it over, do the same thing
4-Take meat out. Pour off excess fat and cook whatever veggies are going in your dish, along with wine or vinegar or whatever liquid you have to deglaze the pan.
5-Add back your chicken, as well hearty herbs and season to taste.
6-Bring to a simmer. Never boil when you braise, as this will make the meat tougher. Cover dish. You can braise in the oven at 300-325 degrees or on the stove.
7-Wait. Wait some more.
8-The meat is done when it’s fork tender. Take out meat. Taste liquid, reduce if necessary.
9-Add back chicken and any last minute delicate herbs. Season to taste.

There. Now you know our whole lesson. Especially #7. Most dishes take over an hour to braise properly, so that what we did. We waited. We chatted. We cleaned up our prep areas. We waited again. Then finally, all the dishes were finished and they were wonderful! I made a lovely Chicken Provencal, which I will share with you below. It’s easy, tasty and beautiful to look at. So was Cathy’s dish. On Cathy’s Blog, you’ll read all about her exciting night there! By the way, anything you braise or stew ALWAYS tastes better the next day, so my recommendation would be to make it the day before you want to eat it, so all the wonderful flavors can meld together!!


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