By David Tanis
For a cool-weather meal that feeds a crowd, consider a braise. Slow simmered and deeply flavored, it has a number of attractive qualities. For one thing, it benefits from steeping in its own juices; cooking it several hours ahead of serving, even a day before, is ideal. The flavors intensify, mature, strengthen.
The best braising cuts include beef chuck, lamb shoulder or pork shoulder. But chicken is the easiest to braise, since it takes less time to cook than red meat. Legs are best. I like both thighs and drumsticks, sometimes cooking them as a whole leg, sometimes in two pieces.
For a main, I went with a dish that approximates the Spanish chicken and potatoes in salsa brava I tasted years ago in Madrid. But I added ancho chile, traditionally used in Mexican cooking, for a different kind of heat. And I couldn’t resist adding a bit of cumin, so the result is a bit of a hybrid. Along with a splash of wine and chopped tomato, it is hearty and warming with a ruddy red sauce.
The now-closed Puerto Rican diner La Taza de Oro was a New York City classic. It fed the Chelsea neighborhood and fans from all walks of life. On a typical day, you might find police officers, hospital workers, the odd politician and any number of locals. It was always busy for lunch. I loved sitting at the counter for a solo meal.
Though I was usually there for one of the daily specials, there was an avocado salad on the menu that was wonderful in its simplicity and extremely popular. In addition to avocado, it was composed of iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced radishes and onion. There may have been a tomato slice. Drizzled with a lemony dressing, it was crisp and refreshing. With avocado season in California in full swing, I thought of that salad and was happy to make it.
Braised chicken with tomato and potatoes
Long-simmered to a tender, falling-off the-bone state, this braised chicken is fragrant with smoky paprika and cumin. This dish aims to be Spanish chicken in salsa brava, but the addition of ancho chiles, traditionally used in Mexican cooking, lends a bit more heat. Along with a splash of wine and chopped tomato, it is hearty and warming, with a ruddy red sauce. Make the dish a day in advance, if you can; the longer it sits in the sauce, the deeper the flavor will be.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: About 2 hours
6 chicken legs (2 1/2 to 3 pounds), cut into thighs and drumsticks, at room temperature
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 dried bay leaf
2 tablespoons ground ancho chile, or more to taste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes, halved
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro (tender stems and leaves), for garnish
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pat chicken dry and season generously with salt and pepper.
2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high until shimmering. Brown chicken pieces in batches, about 5 minutes per side, reducing the heat as necessary to avoid scorching, then transfer to a 9-by-13-inch (or similar size) ovenproof dish.
3. Reduce the heat to medium, add onion to skillet, season with a little salt, and sauté until softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaf, chile, cumin and paprika, and stir.
4. Stir in wine and tomatoes, and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pot. Pour sauce over chicken, tuck potato halves into sauce here and there, and cover. Bake until chicken is fork-tender and potatoes are soft, about 1 hour.
5. Pour sauce into a small shallow pan and bring to a brisk simmer. Let sauce reduce and thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Pour sauce back over chicken and potatoes. Leave in sauce for as long as possible. Just before serving, sprinkle with freshly chopped cilantro.
Avocado, radish and iceberg lettuce salad
I’ve always liked this very simple salad that was served at La Taza de Oro, a now-defunct Puerto Rican diner in New York City.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
1 head iceberg lettuce, leaves separated, some torn
3 large avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 bunch small red radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 small red or white onion, sliced into paper-thin rings
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1. Arrange lettuce leaves on salad plates or a large platter.
2. Top lettuce with sliced avocado, arranged in a random pattern. Sprinkle with radishes and onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and garlic with a pinch of salt. Stir in parsley, if using. Drizzle dressing over the top and serve immediately.