It's a cow's world and chickens are just living in it. In fact, it's a world shared by cows, pigs, fish, even plants, and chickens are just living in it. That's how I tend to feel about it, anyway—I'd choose steak, a burger, pork, halibut, shrimp, scallops, etc. over chicken nearly any day of the week—unless, of course, we're talking about chicken thighs. "To me, you are perfect" - Love Actually, and also me talking to chicken thighs. A rose among thorns. A diamond in the rough. AKA chicken thighs.
And chicken thighs prepared the way the French do it? Unrivaled. I just love them. In this rendition, I'm braising them in Dijon mustard and white wine, alongside pancetta, sweet onion, garlic, thyme, and rosemary. It is this kind of dish that helps us survive the fall and winter, when all we want is warming comfort food that can be cooked lazily in a big Dutch oven. It's rich and hearty enough to be a Sunday meal, creating the most heavenly aromas while it braises in the oven, but it's actually low maintenance enough to be a viable weeknight option.
Dijon and wine braised chicken thighs
Inspired by David Leibovitz
Yields 3 servings, if each person has two chicken thighs
½ cup Dijon mustard
3 T olive oil, plus 1 T more
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tsp salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
6 chicken thighs, bone-in
¼ lb pancetta, sliced (ask the butcher to slice it to the thickness of standard bacon—you could also use bacon here instead)
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped (½ inch dice)
2 T thyme leaves
1 T chopped rosemary
1½ cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
½ cup chicken stock
A couple spoonfuls of the mustard marinade
¼ cup heavy cream
A couple extra thyme leaves for garnishing
Dutch oven, or large ovenproof pot
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
Place chicken thighs in some sort of bowl or baking dish for marinating. Pour mustard mixture over chicken, turning the chicken over and over and using hands to rub it in. Let sit for at least an hour, or covered overnight in the fridge.
Heat Dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta to pot and cook until crisp, flipping over half way through. Remove pancetta to a paper towel lined plate. Add onion to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add in thyme and rosemary and stir for a couple minutes more (be careful—herbs tend to pop a bit when they hit the heat). Remove onions and herbs from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl.
Add 1 T of olive oil to pot, and turn up heat to medium-high. When oil just begins to lightly wisp, carefully add the chicken thighs to the pan, skin side down (they’re going to sizzle and pop and sear if you’re doing it right). Leave them untouched for at least a few minutes (mine took about 5-6 minutes per side) until they’re nice and deeply browned (you’ll have to use a spatula to scrape them from the bottom of the pot when you go to flip them if the skin has stuck a bit—that’s OK). Flip them over and brown the other side. When chicken has been browned, remove them from the pot and temporarily set them aside.
Pour wine into pot, carefully, to deglaze, using a wooden spoon or whisk to scrape the bottom of the pot and get all the dark brown bits to un-stick from the bottom (that’s all your delicious flavor you want to join the sauce). The alcohol will immediately begin to burn off and will be loud and ferocious sounding in the process—but just keep scraping and stirring as the wine bubbles away.
After a few minutes of deglazing, pour in the chicken stock, and then add the chicken, pancetta (broken up into small pieces), onions, herbs, and a couple spoonfuls of leftover mustard marinade back into the pot, arranging the chicken skin side up this time (just because it looks prettier), nestled into the onions and pancetta. Cover pot with lid and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until chicken is done (you can use a meat thermometer to check internal temperature if you’re unsure).
Remove chicken from the pot and set aside. Heat pot with remaining sauce over medium-high heat, adding in the heavy cream, and stirring for about 10 minutes until reduced and thickened slightly. Serve chicken thighs in shallow bowls with a ladle of sauce poured overtop and a sprinkling of thyme leaves.