Last year, my beautiful wife Abby and I visited her family in Israel.
I was a little apprehensive at first, but after sampling the regional cuisine, I felt much more relaxed. All of the food I tasted was exceptional; but the one dish that stuck in my mind was my aunt-in-law’s braised chicken.
Every Thursday, Cohava would get up early and cook for the entire family (it is kind of like the Israeli version of my Italian Sunday dinner). She knew I’m a chef, and was honored that I wanted to get up so early to help her cook. One of the many dishes she and I made was this delicious braised chicken.
But before sharing it with you, I need to offer a few tips about braising chicken. I like to take the skin off so the braising liquid does not become greasy. Second, bring the chicken parts to a boil just for a second just to remove any other impurities that you may have missed. Next, toast the dry spices — it will make them much more aromatic. Lastly, do it “slow and low.” No, that’s not the Beastie Boys’ song, but the technique for a perfect braise: slow cooking at low temperature. The lower the flame and the longer you braise, the more juicy, tender, and flavorful the chicken will become.
Israeli braised chicken
Makes 3-4 servings
2 2- to 3-pound chickens cut in eighths
3 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, large dice.
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbs. Fresh ginger root, minced
1-1/2 tbs. ground cumin
1 tbs. Spanish paprika
1 tbs. Whole black peppercorns
2 Bay leaves
3 tbs. Kosher salt
2 cups orange juice
Get about a gallon of water on the fire and bring it to a boil. Then pre-heat the oven at 325 F.
Rinse the chicken parts in cold water and peel off all the skin. Using a knife, scrape as much of the fat off as possible. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all off. Gently place the cleaned chicken in the pot of water (it’s OK if it is not boiling yet; just leave it in there just until it does come to a boil). Remove.
Place the chicken aside and let it dry. Reserve the liquid. Put the olive oil in a large sauté pan until it just about smokes. Then brown the chicken parts on both sides. Again, make sure that the chicken is dry if not it is going to splatter hot oil all over the place.
Place the chicken in a deep casserole dish. Add the onions garlic and ginger to the same sauté pan and sauté till golden brown. Add the dry ingredients and let them go for about a minute. Add the orange juice to the pan and let that simmer for about a minute. Add the spice mixture over the chicken and add more of the chicken broth to just about cover the chicken. Put it in the oven uncovered.
Slow and low, baby, that’s the trick. Braise it until the chicken is just about falling off the bone about three hours. Flip the chicken about every 45 minutes. This dish goes really well with Israeli couscous. Nothing like a home cooked meal!
Joe Raiola is executive chef at Morton’s The Steakhouse [339 Adams St. between Willoughby and Tillary streets in Downtown, (718) 596-2700].