Brow Beat

The Key to the Most Flavorful Braised Chicken on the Block

A braised chicken leg on polenta.
Bobbi Lin

I bet you’ve had this deflating feeling before. You get to the end of cooking and all the work and nuanced layers of flavor you thought you’d built—poof!—have gone missing. Suddenly all you taste is lemon (or cumin or rosemary), and somehow each bite tastes both too salty and not salty enough? Even teacherly insistence to taste as you go! can’t always save us from this feeling.

For me, this happens much too often, and especially so with chicken—America’s #1 meat love and maybe the least taste-as-you-go-able ingredient there is. There are lots of ways we can try to outpace flat chicken—dry-brining and wet-brining and feta-brining; choosing smaller, richer cuts like thighs and legs; coaxing out precious crispy skin, flavorless meat’s most distracting security blanket.

Raw chicken on a cutting board.
Bobbi Lin

But in this cozy, fierce hug of a braised chicken recipe (1), New Orleans-based chef Donald Link attacks from another angle that we should start considering—one that doesn’t necessitate marinating or brining ahead, but creates some of the most richly flavored, not-flat chicken I’ve ever tasted (and a sauce like gold).

Even the leaner breast meat doesn’t lose luster, despite generally being ill-equipped for braising—it lacks the fat and other fun bits that transform slow-cooking thighs and legs into the stuff that made “meltingly tender” a food writing cliché. White meat is never meltingly tender. But here, it comes close.

Chicken thighs in sauce.
Bobbi Lin

Admittedly, this sauce has a lot of good things going for it—tomato paste and white wine and browned onions and fennel—but the pin that holds them all together and makes this recipe unforgettable in a sea of chickens? The deeper, richer seasoning that comes from not just salt, but foods cured in salt—in this case, green olives and salami.

“I’m…a salt fanatic,” Link writes in his cookbook Down South (2), “and really like the way the olives and salami add layers of salty flavor that you cannot get from the seasoning alone.”

A close-up of a thicken leg on polenta.
Bobbi Lin

As much as plain old salt is crucial for bringing out other flavors, there are even more powerful forms we could be taking better advantage of—I’m not talking about pricey infused salts, but the basic bottles and bags of ingredients we have hanging around that have already spent time mingling with salt and taking on new funky dimensions—pickles, miso, bacon!

We see the benefits of this any time we slip an anchovy into our pasta or soy sauce into our salad dressing, but we could be even looser in what we consider “salt to taste” and when and where we deploy it.

Chicken, for starters.

(1) Fun fact: I discovered this recipe by prowling this goldmine of a Food52 Hotline thread where community members shared their favorite recipe they’d cooked in 2016. Delightfully-named Food52er weekend at bearnaise shouted out to Donald Link’s recipe that Kim Severson had originally highlighted in The New York Times, writing, “It was, hands down, one of the best things to ever come out of my kitchen.”

(2) Link’s first book Real Cajun made it through three of four rounds of our 2010 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks, including beating the Momofuku cookboookDaniel Patterson’s review foreshadowed this very Genius Recipe: “Link spends a lot of time talking about the most important (and too often underemphasized) cooking ingredient: salt.”

Donald Link’s Braised Chicken With Salami & Olives

Serves 4 to 6.

• 1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 10 pieces (a mix of legs and/or thighs also works well)
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
• 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
• 1 rosemary branch (about 8 inches)
• 1 1/4 cups diced salami
• 1 cup pitted green olives, rinsed and cut in half (try to find firm, not-too-salty olives like Picholine or Castelvetrano)
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 2 1/4 cups chicken broth
• 4 dried bay leaves
• Juice of 1 lemon

See the full recipe on Food52.

More from Food52:
Recipe Introductions Matter. Here’s Why.
A ‘Why Didn’t I Think of That?’ Trick for Better Salads
Why I Fly 5,000 Miles Every Year for Norooz
14 Things to Cook Right Now Because Hi, Hello, It’s Spring
Braised Moroccan Chicken and Olives
Braised Balsamic Mustard Chicken