Getting Jé to eat any other part of a chicken but the breast is always a difficult task. A couple of weeks ago (just after my second week of school, actually) I was grocery shopping alone and saw some very cheap chicken thighs at the store. Even though I knew I’d get a less than enthusiastic response from him about my purchase, I carried on and knew exactly what I wanted to make. My Mom had emailed me a recipe for braised chicken thighs in a creamy paprika sauce a few days before and it caught my eye. That week in school, we’d learned how to do the “poulet cocotte grand-mère,” which was an exercise in making home-made stock from the natural juices and transforming into an out of this world sauce base. So, I took the general idea of the recipe and melded it with what I’d learned days before and this dish was born.
I think the basis of this dish must come from Eastern Europe somewhere, probably Hungary or the Czech Republic. I love the smoky sweet flavor of paprika, and the finely diced bell pepper gave a nice crunch added to the ensemble. Of course, in my book, a perfect sauce has to include a little bit of heavy cream, which cut the salty, intense and rich flavor of my chicken base. All in all, I think I found a fine balance, and served the dish with glazed rutabagas to keep things healthy(ish).
Let me tell you now, up front, that this dish will take a bit of time. I really wanted to hone and perfect a few different techniques that I’d learned in culinary school and so I set about meticulously preparing my ingredients. The brunoise (fine dice) of bell peppers alone probably took me five minutes, plus another couple to cut the onions just so. Of course, you don’t have to be quite so meticulous, but do make sure that the bell pepper and onion are cut into equal sized pieces. This is the only way to really control their doneness. Also, making the chicken sauce base took quite awhile. I think from start to finish I needed almost an hour and a half for four large chicken thighs. I definitely didn’t even notice the time go by, and when I tasted my chicken base I knew that all my time spent in the kitchen was totally worth it ;)
Roast chicken thighs in smoky paprika sauce
Ingredients (serves 4):
4 large chicken thighs, skin on
2 T olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 bell peppers, half finely diced, half roughly chopped
2 small onions, half finely diced, half roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1 laurel or bay leaf
1/2 C white wine
1 T flour
1 C chicken stock or bouillon
1 T tomato paste
1 t chili flakes
1 heaping T smoked paprika
1/4 C heavy cream
The easiest thing to use here is an oven safe dutch oven (you need a lid). Preheat your oven to about 400°. The first step is searing your chicken. Heat the olive oil over medium heat until very hot. Season your chicken with salt and pepper and then add it to the olive oil, letting it sear undisturbed for about 2-3 minutes before turning it over to do the other side. After two minutes on side two, add your “garniture aromatique,” meaning your carrots, roughly chopped onion and bell pepper and herbs. All of this stuff will be filtered and thrown out later, and it’s sole purpose is to flavor the chicken and subsequently, the sauce. Cover and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the thighs no longer bleed when pierced with a fork. You should uncover for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking time in order to really brown the chicken.
Remove the dish from the oven, transfer the chicken to another dish and keep it warm in the oven while you make your sauce base. Using a colander, strain the cooking juices over the sink to get rid of the excess fat. Return the veggies and herbs to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. It’s OK if the little bits and pieces stick to the pan because we’re going to deglaze it in just a minute. You should cook the mixture for about five minutes, letting it do it’s thing (i.e. you don’t need to be stirring every two seconds!). This essentially releases all the flavors from what’s left of your garniture aromatique. Now you can deglaze with the white wine and then turn the heat down to just a simmer, letting the sauce reduce while you prepare the rest.
Letting a sauce reduce is great, but if you want a dreamy consistency without letting most of your sauce evaporate, you have to make a roux. I learned recently that the reason a roux is used rather than just mixing flour or cornstarch with water and mixing it into the sauce is that the process of cooking the flour takes away that starchy taste, leaving us simply with its thickening properties. So, for the roux, you need equal parts butter and flour. For the quantity we’re making, 1 T of butter is perfect. In a small sauce pan, melt the butter and then whisk in the flour, cooking the roux for about 2 minutes while whisking constantly. You can now pour your stock into the roux, whisk to incorporate, then add the thickened stock (called a velouté) to the reduced mixture of pan juices.
Let the sauce reduce slightly more until it’s nice and thick and the roux has had time to work its magic. Strain the sauce again, discarding the veggies and bits, and set aside. In the same dutch oven (that you wiped clean with a paper towel), heat 1 more tablespoon of butter. Once it’s melted, add the onion and sweat them for about 4-5 minutes. Now add you pepper, and continue cooking over medium-low heat for another 4-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, chili flakes and paprika and let them cook for a quick minute before stirring in your sauce. Once everything is well blended, stir in the heavy cream and place the chicken directly into the sauce. Heat for a couple of minutes if necessary to warm up the chicken and serve immediately, spooning the excess sauce over the chicken.