On Braising vs. Just Stewing & Poblano + Pasilla Chile Chicken Stew

I have a rare moment of extended toddler self-containment (Thank you, Land Before Time!), so no time like the present to bang out a recipe.

There is a big part of me that longs to indulge my writing and the ability to sit here and stare at a blank screen for as long as it takes to cook up a longer musing on life related stuff, but it's tempered by other satisfaction that has come in the form of returning to teaching (cooking) and stealing moments in the evening to work on music with Dean. 

That whole having it all, just not all at once thing, I guess. :)

But back to the task! Last week, Dean asked for "some slow-cooked Mexican-type goodness," so I put this together and made a taco night of it. We thought it turned out worthy of a recipe post, so here goes...

I think Tim Ferriss argued in The 4-Hour Chef that the difference resulting from the extra effort that goes into braising (searing/browning/sauteing components before boiling/simmering) versus just stewing is a mostly esoteric one, appreciated mostly by those who like to go to the trouble of doing it, and hardly detected by the rest. I used to reject the notion more fervently, but I think it's because I've mellowed and evolved into less of a dickhead/blowhard cook/foodie that I tend to agree with him more these days.

It's not that there isn't a difference in the development and layering of flavor as well as a slight difference in texture, because there absolutely is. It's not that I don't still thoroughly enjoy a very slow, longhand approach to cooking when life permits. It's not that there aren't some people in my life other than me who appreciate the result as well. And it's not that a good cook shouldn't understand the difference.

But the difference is mostly lost on people who just aren't as concerned about it as those of us who are, but who are still as capable of enjoying a good meal.

In my experience, proper reduction on the tail end yields greater benefit for effort than searing/sauteing on the front end, but this is all a very long way to say that you could just dump all the ingredients into a pot, give them a good stir or three, bring them to a boil for a minute or two, simmer for a good while with the lid askew, and then reduce for a shorter while with the lid off and still get something better than just good enough, and if that's what works for you on the day you make this recipe, go for it.

Almost no one will be the wiser. ;)

Poblano & Pasilla Chile Chicken Stew
Serves 4 to 6
Time: About an hour

- 3.5 pounds chicken thighs and/or drums, seasoned with 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
- an additional 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons neutral flavored oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/4-inch wide slices 
- 1 large fresh poblano chile, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips (you can use 1 small green bell pepper in a pinch)
- 2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1.5 teaspoons dried pasilla chile powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground achiote
- 1 bay leaf
- optional: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chipotle powder for heat and smokiness
- 1.5 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)
- 1.5 cups water

1) In a large pot, bring your oil up to medium high heat and sear the chicken on both sides for 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

2) Stir in your onion, pepper, garlic, tomatoes, and saute for 3 or 4 minutes, until the onions start to turn translucent.

3) Add the pasilla, achiote, and bay, (and chipotle if you're using it) and stir it into the rest of the ingredients, and let them bloom a bit in the hot oil.

4) Add the lime juice, water, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt, give the mixture a couple of stirs, and cover completely until you hear the stew boiling (should be 5 to 7 minutes).

5) At that point, set the lid slightly askew (like an 1/8" opening on one side), turn the heat down to medium low, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you can scrape any burnt solids from the bottom of the pot during this process, your heat's a little too high, and you should adjust it down slightly.

6) Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes to allow the liquids to reduce and concentrate in flavor. About halfway into this last simmer period is when you should taste the stew and adjust the seasoning for more salt and/or spices if you like. This will give the added seasoning time to meld. Always increase salt and spices in small amounts - you can always add, but you can't subtract.

Steamed white rice or my Cilantro Garlic Rice would be a great starch accompaniment to this meal, but we went for tacos this time around with charred corn tortillas, pico de gallo, some cabbage, and some crema agria (Mexican sour cream).

¡Buen provecho! :)




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