Pot Cooking, Pollan-Style

Michael Pollan, in his new book Cooked, writes that after pot cooking was invented thousands of years ago, the next major change in cooking technology was the microwave. In my own much much much shorter personal history of cooking, the biggest change for me after discovering that there was life beyond the stir-fry, was reading books by Michael Pollan. His advice to “Eat food…” and avoid processed junk seems so obvious now, but four years ago I thought nothing of stocking my cupboards with breakfast cereals and Rice-A-Roni.

Having recently finished reading Cooked, I was inspired by his chapter on water cooking, or pot cooking, to make a braise. I am someone who always uses recipes when making anything more complicated than chops with mashed potatoes. But given confidence in my abilities from Pollan’s book, I used a few of the simple directions he gives to make up a recipe as I went along. So here I reproduce for you the delicious dinner I made last night: braised chicken in a sweet and spicy chayote sauce.

Braised Chicken in Chayote Sauce

1 whole chicken, about 3.5 lbs, cut into 8 pieces

3 chayotes, peeled, cored, and diced

1 preserved lemon, washed, pulp scraped out and chopped

2 onions, minced

2 garlic cloves

minced 3 carrots

chopped 3 celery stalks

chopped 2 cups water

1-teaspoon white pepper

1-teaspoon red pepper flakes

1-teaspoon dried thyme

¼ cup honey

1 ½ cups white wine

Salt and Pepper

3- tablespoons cooking fat or oil

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1.) Dry chicken on paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In a large cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of fat. When hot but not smoking start browning chicken in skillet, about 5 minutes per side until chicken is crusty brown all over.

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2.) While chicken is browning, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of fat in an enameled pot and cook onions and garlic over low heat until soft and beginning to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper. When onion and garlic is cooked, add carrots, celery and chayote. Season again while cooking.

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3.) By the time the vegetables have cooked down and are soft and pliable, the chicken should be browned. Add the chicken to the pot and add two cups water, ½ cup wine, preserved lemon, white pepper, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Season again. Stir it up a bit and cover with a lid. Allow to cook over medium-low heat for fifteen minutes or until a meat thermometer register 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

4.) Remove chicken but leave everything else. Add honey and remaining wine and boil down the sauce until it is thick and creamy. Taste from time to time and adjust seasoning as desired. When the sauce is ready, return chicken to the pot. Heat it all together a moment of two and serve.

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