Here’s your chance to cook with the cast! Make the featured recipe with us and comment on your experience below—we’d love to hear how it goes. Our cooks will answer any questions you may have, too.
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Chicken—meh. I can take it or leave it (unless it’s fried, but that’s a discussion for another day). As a devoted carnivore, I think chicken is the meat-world’s version of tofu: white… bland… and boring.
But here comes Chicken Canzanese, an Italian dish of braised chicken flavored with garlic, sage, cloves, and prosciutto. And you know that anything with blessed, salt-cured, air-dried ham in it has to be deeeee-lishous. So, I was happy enough to give this dish a try, and I’m glad that I did.
The texture of the chicken melts in your mouth. Want to know why? The test kitchen didn’t use chicken breasts (which are a hybrid of tofu and sawdust), and instead chose the darker, richer, and fattier thighs. But “oh-no” you say, “I don’t like dark meat. It’s stringy and chewy, and strong in flavor.” Well, you got me on that last point—chicken thighs actually do have flavor—but repeat after me: flavor is good. As for dry, stringy, or chewy chicken? It’s nowhere in sight, thanks to braising.
You see, like many Hollywood starlets, chicken thighs are full of collagen—you also know this as “marbling.” As the chicken braises in steamy liquid, the moisture breaks down the tough collagen, and turns it into tender gelatin. That gelatin keeps the meat moist during cooking. But here’s the kicker: Breast meat contains much less collagen, so this trick only works with dark meat.
Ah, but that’s not to say that braising chicken doesn’t have issues. Submerged under the liquid, the skin becomes flabby and loose (unlike many Hollywood starlets). The test kitchen’s answer to this? Brown the thighs skin-side down for flavor, and then braise them skin-side up, with the skin just peeking over the liquid in the pan. No more flabby skin. Done.
Let’s run through this recipe; we’ll discuss the details as we go. But a little about prosciutto: For this recipe, don’t go for that pre-sliced stuff that’s paper-thin. We want meaty cubes, so ask the guy or gal behind the deli counter to pretty-please slice it ¼-inch thick.
After sautéing the prosciutto, followed by slices of garlic in olive oil, we remove them and use the now-yummy-flavored oil to brown the chicken. And do yourself a favor: While the chicken is browning, don’t eat all of the crispy bits of browned prosciutto. You’ll need them later.
Once the chicken is out of the pan, we begin to build the braising liquid. We start with cooking a smidge of flour to give it some body, and then pour in a mix of dry white wine and chicken broth while scraping up all of that brown stuff (fond) off the bottom of the pan. Seriously, one day I’m going to make a million dollars just by selling fond. It’s hard to make a great-tasting sauce without it.
The liquid gets more flavor via some cloves, bay leaves, sage leaves (not the dried stuff!), red pepper, the prosciutto and garlic mix, and a rosemary stem sans leaves (just strip off the rosemary needles and save those to mince for later). If you added the leaves now, the entire dish would taste like rosemary and pine potpourri—and yes, I know what potpourri tastes like. (Don’t ask.)
It’s time to nestle in that chicken, but remember we keep the skin sitting pretty above the liquid. Then we put the whole kit and kaboodle right into the oven. Now, most of the time when we braise meat, we keep it under a lid. But this time, we let the dish go topless—that way the skin won’t become soggy, and even better, the sauce will reduce in volume and grow in flavor. Just let it all stay in there until the meat is tender. That’s about 1 and a quarter hours that you have to kill. Mince the rosemary leaves, read a book, build a birdhouse, go tanning, whatever.
By this point you’re surely ooo-ing at how tender that chicken is—it nearly fell apart as you moved it to your serving platter, right? So, just a couple of things to do before you tuck into dinner: First of all, get rid of the spent sage and bay leaves, the cloves, and rosemary stem (who wants to chomp down on that?). Then put the skillet back on the stovetop and let it simmer down until the liquid, which we’ll now call a sauce, reduces even more. A couple of minutes should do it.
One last thing: Add in the minced rosemary, a little lemon juice, butter (of course), and salt and pepper if needed. Now take that sauce out to the dinner table, and pour it over the chicken as your favorite people look on and salivate. Now take a bite, and say goodbye to white meat forever.