Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dinnerlove: Roman Chicken

 I was first married in 1993. I had been raised by a mother with a Bachelor’s Degree in Home Economics, so I was confident that I’d be able to clean, decorate, garden and cook as well as I’d seen my mother do for the previous 26 years.


I could barely keep up with the dust in the rural Victorian farmhouse. I had no talent with decorating or with painting the old walls. I started a kitchen garden and immediately killed my summer squash by spreading the granular fertilizer directly on the leaves of the poor plant, instead of into its soil.  When it came to cooking, I had no idea that marinating chicken in pure lemon juice for 3 days would turn it into plywood, or that starting potatoes in hot water would yield what amounted to wallpaper paste.

I persevered though, being the stubborn girl I am. My mother had watched Julia Child's cooking programs on t.v., and I turned to Public Television to help me learn to be a better homemaker and cook. Twenty years ago, the local PBS station allocated all day Saturday to cooking and DIY shows. It was my habit to tune into every cooking show that aired, in an attempt to pick up some tips. I particularly loved the shows that combined travel and cooking; Burt Wolf and The Frugal Gourmet were my favorites. I ordered the cookbooks that accompanied the shows and worked my way through starters, meat, poultry, vegetables and desserts. One of my favorite poultry dishes was one that had its origins in Roman cooking. I have forgotten the original title of the dish and have come to refer to it as “Roman chicken”. I have adjusted this recipe significantly, to reflect my tastes and it has become one of my family’s favorite dinners.

Roman Chicken
8 skinless chicken thighs (chicken thighs are a cheap and wonderfully flavorful product- try to use them bone-in, there is more flavor)
1 yellow onion, peeled, cut to small dice
6-8 large garlic cloves, minced or put through a press
2 tsp Italian spice
2 tsp dry basil (fresh can certainly be used, just remember the fresh is less potent than the dried and adjust accordingly.)
3 tsp/1 TBSP (or more) dried oregano
1-2 tsp dried rosemary
2 Tbsp ground black pepper
1-2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar (use white granulated sugar if you don't have brown- or add a little molasses to the white sugar)
1 – 1 ½ cup red wine(no substitute here...if you don't want to use real, table quality red, just omit this ingredient; keep in mind alcohol burns off in the cooking process)
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 small can of tomato paste
4-6 cups tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes or whatever you have on hand
2 cups Spanish green olives (you can also use capers)
Salt to taste 
Steamed rice

Brown the chicken in a skillet with olive oil. Don't move them until they release naturally from the bottom of the pan. Keep the heat at medium and you'll get a nice, even brown. Remove from the pan. Add the diced onion and saute for 5-6 minutes or until the onions are slightly golden. Add the sugar and mix for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan. Add in all the other ingredients into the pan and stir to incorporate. Replace the chicken thighs into the pot and cover. Simmer for 3-4 hours or until the meat falls off the bone. Serve over brown or white steamed rice, dumplings, pasta or toasted rustic bread.

This dish is even better the next day. You can also do the first part of this recipe and slide it all into a crock pot. Although there are a fair amount of ingredients, most are pantry staples. Enjoy!

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