This Spanish chicken is the kind of dish I grew up eating. We often had braised or roasted one-pan dishes that my Mum could spend a few minutes pulling together then leave to cook in the oven while she went on with all the other things she had to do. This type of meal also tastes better when eaten a day or two after it is made – so it is a gift to anyone who doesn’t have time to cook from scratch every night. You can also take it in all sorts of flavour directions once you get the technique down.
Adding a Parmesan rind takes this recipe to the next level – imagine a cheesy teabag. In fact, maybe don’t imagine that – just trust me, you don’t want to leave it out.
If you make it ahead, it can be kept in the fridge for 3 days. It freezes well too. I love it with baked, hassleback or roast potatoes and greens. Leftovers are lovely served stirred through pasta. If you need major comfort, serve it with mashed potato or polenta.
You can either cook this dish in the oven, or in a crock pot/slow cooker.
The best type of chicken to use when braising
I always use free-range chicken, ideally organic if it is available. I’d rather have less meat but know it has led a happier life and hasn’t been eating anything I wouldn’t want.
For the sake of flavour (first) and cost (second), I use skinless chicken thigh on the bone in a dish like this. It does take a little longer to cook but the bone gives great depth to the sauce. If you can’t be bothered taking the skin off, leave it on. Instead of being left with, what you may imagine to be a fatty sauce, you actually get a more smooth, succulent dinner. If you or the people you’re feeding don’t like having bones on your plate, and you are nice enough to cater to that particular whim, then I would suggest one of two options:
- Cook the meat on the bone, then lift it out when it is cooked and pull the meat off the bone and return just the meat to the pan before serving or
- Buy skin on and bone in chicken thighs but ask your butcher to de-bone them and remove the skin. Then leave the skin with him but bring the bones home. Cook the bones in with the chicken and remove them before serving – if you are cooking this way, you can reduce the oven time by 20 minutes.
Key things to remember when braising:
- Cook low and slow – that is how you get melting meat and delicious depth of flavour.
- Choose cuts of meat that have done lots of work in their previous life, like legs and bums! They are typically the cheaper cuts as they take a little longer to cook, but they have the most flavour and won’t dry out.
- Brown your meat first then add flavours and liquid. When braising, the meat should not be fully covered by liquid to allow you to get the combination of colour and softness as it cooks. I have made this recipe without browning the chicken when I’ve been in a rush and it was still pretty good, but not as good as when I’d browned it.
- Use a heavy pan with a lid. The heavier the pan, the better it holds onto an even heat when you are cooking at a low temperature. I use my Le Creuset or a Dutch Oven. If you don’t have one, use your heaviest pan and use a double layer of foil to tightly seal the top.
Active prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: 1 ½ hours (mainly hands-off)
Spanish Chicken Ingredients
(this amount serves 4 people so I urge you to double or triple it and freeze some)
8 free-range chicken thighs, skin removed but bone left in – see note above
1 tablespoon olive or rapeseed (non gmo canola) oil
1 and a half tablespoons plain (all purpose) flour
1 glass white wine or Marsala
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled but left whole
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, left whole
1 can 400g (14.5oz) of good quality salt-free chopped tomatoes
A Parmesan rind – either get into the habit of keeping ends of a block of Parmesan in the freezer, or ask at your cheese counter if you can buy one
1-4 teaspoons red wine vinegar to taste
Optional – red (bell) peppers, olives
- Italian version: switch out the smoked paprika to oregano, the thyme to rosemary; the white wine to red wine. Don’t forget the Parmesan rind.
- Indian version: switch out the smoked paprika to your favorite curry powder, the thyme to chopped fresh ginger and chili; the white wine to chicken broth and serve with chopped coriander (cilantro) and yoghurt.
- Put your chicken in a plastic food bag with the flour and salt and pepper and shake to coat the chicken well.
- Heat the oil in a heavy based, wide bottomed pan. Ideally the pan you will cook the whole dish in to save washing up.
- Brown the chicken skin side down (shaking off most of the flour first) in batches, to avoid overcrowding the pan. How many pieces you fit in will depend on the size of your pan. If your chicken doesn’t sizzle when it hits the oil, then the heat up until it does. Don’t be tempted to move the chicken as it needs to stick a little at first to develop the golden crust we want. This should take around 8 minutes on a medium high heat. Use your sense of smell to know if it is burning and adjust the heat below the pan to control the speed of cooking. There is no need to brown it on the other side if you’re in a rush, but it will do no harm if you do want to brown it on both sides.
- While the chicken browns, peel your garlic but leave the cloves whole. No, I’ve not made a mistake, you’re using the whole bulb. Don’t worry it will be sweet and mellow and not pungent. This is because I’m not using an onion in this dish. The garlic gives that onion note.
- When your first batch of chicken has browned, set it aside (I usually use the upturned lid of my pot to hold it) and brown the second batch.
- Pre-heat the oven to 150°C / 300°F.
- When all the chicken is browned on both sides, throw the wine in to bubble and loosen any delicious crusty bits in the pan. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan. Add with the smoked paprika, whole cloves of garlic, whole stems of thyme, Parmesan rind and tomatoes. Stir and bring up to the boil.
- Return the chicken to the pan and push it in so that it is two thirds submerged in liquid. If the tomato and wine liquid isn’t enough to two thirds cover it, use some hot water or stock.
- Bring the pan back to the boil, with the lid on, then place in the oven. Cook for 45 minutes and then take it out to check. Gently stir so that the parts of the chicken pieces that have been under liquid are now exposed. Return to the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is falling off the bone. I often leave this to cook for a couple of hours and it is fine.
- When the chicken is ready, check the consistency of the sauce. If you would like it to be thicker, remove the lid and put it back into the oven until it reduces to the thickness you’d like. At this stage you can leave it to cool and chill it before keeping it in the fridge or freezing it.
- Before serving, remove the Parmesan rind and discard it. Taste the sauce and gradually add the red wine vinegar plus salt and pepper until you are happy with the taste. Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.