Most of the recipes in the world are related in some way. Cooking techniques create a family tree from which every recipe can claim its lineage. I’m passionate about food and I’m passionate about the possibility that all of the recipes we make can come from their own branch on the tree.
A classic béchamel sauce is one of the “mother sauces” of French gastronomy. Funny thing is that the exact same technique is used to create an American from-scratch macaroni and cheese or the ultimate in Southern down-home food, white gravy for biscuits. I love that, in a way, while my Mudder (Geraldine) was making biscuits and gravy a French chef was on the other side of the world using the same technique to make a dish that she may have never dreamed even existed.
Really, food is the most beautiful.
The concept of this dish isn’t completely new. It’s a classic braise. It closely resembles chicken cacciatore, an Italian hunter stew, but with some unique variables. It’s amazing how adding a few ingredients with different flavors can completely transform something so familiar.
I saw fire roasted San Marzano (I used the Muir Glenn Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes) tomatoes at Costco and grabbed them with no real plan in mind. (BPA free cannnnnn! Woot!) (Nope, this isn’t a sponsored post. They’re just yummy.) I thought they’d play star in any dish and actually make me want to eat tomato sauce. See, I’m not usually a fan of anything with a tomato sauce. Not completely averse to it, I just prefer other sauces. Give me a cream sauce, a white wine sauce, a butter sauce- I’m game. But tomatoes based toppings aren’t usually my first choice. So, I thought changing up the tomato game might be the key.
It was! It really really was.
They were amazing. They gave a good depth of flavor and added something unique to what would have otherwise been the same flavor profile that I’m usually not that excited about. You can see the little bits of char on the tomatoes and their flavor is really rich. I was surprised that on their own, before cooking, right out of the can, the tomatoes were really delicious. I can’t wait to experiment with them some more!
I amped up the smoky flavor by adding in some bacon to render for its delicious cooking fat and then added in the crumbles to cook along with the braise. I finished the stew by wilting in some fresh baby greens. They added great color and upped the vegetable quotient even further.
Don’t get me started about chicken thighs. Those things are plum magical. We’re dark meat people over here. I don’t get white meat. Sorry, y’all. I’ve seen some well prepared chicken thighs convert the most avid white meat devotee.
The magical thing about a chicken thigh is its ability to stay so incredibly juicy when abused. You have to work pretty hard to overcook a chicken thigh. I certainly don’t try, but it’s nice to use a cut of meat that won’t get ruined when the UPS man rings the doorbell midway through the searing process and you forget to cut the heat on the stove. (Oops.) I used the boneless-skinless variety for this dish. You could certainly make this with bone-in thighs, but I wanted this to be a one-bowl stew dinner.
The whole thighs are braised in the sauce and are easy to cut with a fork when served over pasta. (Or on its own if you’re not interested in pasta for whatever silly reason!)
I rarely rave about my own cooking. I cooked professionally for many years, but I’m certainly my own worst critic. My husband says that he knows I’ve made something I like when I say “that wasn’t bad!”. Well, I kept saying “I really like this. I reeeally like this!” while we ate. It’s love. This one is going in the permanent rotation for sure.
Smoky Tomato and Chicken Thigh Stew:
(Can be made Gluten Free or Paleo by omitting the pasta.)
6 Slices Bacon
1 Large Onion (diced into large pieces)
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
8-10 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 28 Ounce Cans Fire Roasted San Marzano Tomatoes (Whole) (Can be made with regular San Marzano style tomatoes as well. Look for BPA free cans if possible.)
1/2 Teaspooon red pepper flakes
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
4-5 Fresh Basil Leaves (minced)
Salt & Pepper to taste
4 Cups Fresh Spinach or Baby Greens
In a large Dutch Oven- cook bacon slices until crisped. Remove bacon slices, leaving any rendered fat in the pot. Chop the bacon into bite sized pieces and set aside for later.
Add onions to bacon fat and cook on high until lightly browned. Add garlic and cook for one minute more.
Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Move the cooked onions to one side of the pan and add chicken thighs. Sear each side until lightly golden brown.
In a large bowl empty contents of tomato cans (including the juices). Using clean hands or a potato masher (hands work better!) squish the whole tomatoes to break up the large pieces.
Add tomatoes, bacon crumbles, and herbs to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes on low.
Add the baby greens to the pot and stir until just wilted. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
Serve over buttered pasta- we love the campanelli shape.