This past week I had a few days off between projects (such is the life of a free lancer) and I took the opportunity to visit a lovely little Monday mornings only farmers market held each week in Plummer Park in West Hollywood. Although the market certainly cannot compare to the one in Santa Monica on Wednesdays and Saturdays, or the one in Hollywood on Sundays, this one has quite a lot to offer. In addition to the numerous produce stands, there is a stand that sells freshly baked breads, there is a fishmonger cart, there is a truck that sells fantastic rotisserie chickens, their juices dripping down and seasoning a bed of roasted potatoes, and even a cheese cart.
As I perused the veggies, I saw at one stand a pile a the cutest little baby leeks. Judging from the clumps of dirt that still clung to the tangle of roots, they must have been picked only a day or so ago. Each rubber banded bundle consisted of three leeks and at $1 each, it seemed like quite a bargain. I couldn't pass it up.
I'm trying to be that kind of cook who lets the ingredients steer where the meal is going to go. But I have to admit, it tends to cause a bit of undue stress. You go to the farmers market and say, the fennel looks nice. You pick up a couple bulbs and then suddenly you're all "I have two bulbs of fennel. WHAT DO I DO WITH THEM?" Then it turns into a race against time as you're plowing through cookbooks and recipe websites trying to find a recipe for fennel, something you can cook before the fennel goes off. Too many times have I gotten overly ambitious in picking up bags full of vegetables that I have no idea how and when I'll use them, only to have them end up rotting in the bottom of my refrigerator. I apologize to the bunch of golden beets that I meant to do something really interesting with but didn't. Forgive me fennel. You deserved better.
Such was almost the case with these leeks. I bought them on Monday and then come Thursday, they were still sitting on my counter, covered with dirt, the outer leaves turning a depressing gray green. After I peeled off the outer layer and discovered that they were indeed still okay I was determined to put these leeks to good use rather than letting them die in vain. This cannot happen again.
SO WHAT DO I DO WITH TWO BUNDLES OF LEEKS? Using them in a soup seemed like the most obvious option, however, it's kind of a thankless dish for them. They're really just a supporting player for whatever is the main star. An extra if you will. Sure they provide color and flavor, but it's not really about the leeks. Even in something like a potato leek soup, they just get pureed beyond recognition. I wanted something that didn't relegate the poor leek to the background. I turned to the ever trustful Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It's been a while since I've tackled one of Ms. Goin's time consuming, yet always reliable recipes, and this sounded like the perfect showcase for my leeks. This is her version of an old Julia Child recipe. Even though I might seem like the chicken is the star, this dish would be nearly as interesting without the leeks.
If you're wondering why this dish is called "Devil's Chicken Thighs..." from the scant amount of research I've done, when a dish is "deviled" basically it means any dish in which a hot spice is used, typically Dijon mustard. The most common are deviled eggs and deviled ham although in my copy of the 1950 edition of the Gourmet cookbook, there are recipes for deviled butter, deviled crab, deviled kidneys and liver, deviled mutton chops, deviled shrimp (in a chafing dish), deviled broiled tomatoes, deviled turkey, and last but not least, jellied deviled tongue in port wine (shudder). It seems you can pretty much devil anything you want.
(for the braised leeks)
6 large leeks
about 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 to 1/2 cup chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
(for the chicken marinade)
6 to 8 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
1 cup thinly sliced onion
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 chiles de arbol, crumbled
2 dried bay leaves, crumbled
3/4 cup dry vermouth
(for the breadcrumb mixture)
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
(for the mustard mixture)
1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 extra-large egg
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
(For the browning of the chicken)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
First the chicken needs to be marinated. In a large bowl, combine the chicken thighs, sliced onion, thyme, chiles, bay leaves and vermouth. Using your hands, toss to coat the chicken well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
The next step is to braise the leeks. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. To clean the leeks, remove any bruised outter layers. Trim off the roots, leaving the root intact. Trim the top of the leeks on a diagonal, leaving 2 inches of the green part attached. Cut the leek in half lengthwise and submerge in a bowl or sink filled with cold water. Shake the leeks well to dislodge any dirt stuck inside. Let them sit for a few minutes, to allow any grit inside the layers to fall to the bottom of the bowl or sink. If the leeks are very dirty, repeat the process. Place the leeks, cut side down on a towel and pat dry completely.
Turn the leeks cut side up and season with some salt and pepper. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and when it shimmers, place the leeks in the pan, cut side down, being careful not to over crowd the pan. (You will probably need to saute the leeks in batches). Sear the leeks until the are golden brown, 2 or 3 minutes.
While they are searing, season the back of the leeks with some salt and pepper, and then turn them over and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes. Transfer the leeks to a large baking dish, one that will be able to hold the leeks as well as the chicken thighs.
Wipe out the pan with a paper towel and then pour in 1/4 cup olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots, thyme 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the shallots have a little color. Add the white wine and then reduce by half. Add the 1 to 1/2 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the liquid over the leeks. The stock mixture should not quite cover the leeks.
Braise in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the leeks are tender when pierced with a fork.
While the leeks braise, it's the perfect time to deal with the chicken. To make the breadcrumb coating place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Add 3 tablespoons of butter and cook until it's brown and smells nutty.
Using a spatula, scrape the brown butter over the breadcrumbs. Wait 1 minute and the add the parsley and thyme and toss well to combine.
Next we move on to the mustard mixture. Wipe out the saute pan the butter was browned in and heat over medium heat for 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and once it's melted and is foamy, add the shallots and 1 teaspoon of thyme. Saute for 2 minutes, until the shallots are translucent. Add 1/2 cup vermouth and cook until it's reduced by half. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Whisk in the Dijon mustard, egg, chopped tarragon, and a grinding of black pepper.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior to cooking so it comes to room temperature. Discard all the seasonings and pat the chicken dry with paper towels. (To get a really nice sear on meat, with good color, the meat always needs to be completely dry) After 15 minutes, season the thighs on both sides with salt and pepper.
Now the chicken needs to be browned. Wipe out the saute pan and heat over high heat for 2 minutes. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and wait 1 minute. Place half the chicken thighs in the pan, skin side down and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the skin turns a deep golden brown.
Turn the chicken over and cook for an additional 2 or 3 minutes. Place the chicken on the braised leeks while you brown the remaining chicken thighs. (This is just so that any juices that run out do so into the leeks, which is where they need to go anyway, plus this prevents us from having to dirty a plate while we continue browning) When all the chicken has been browned pour out the remaining fat. Return the pan to the stove over high heat and add the chicken stock, scraping up the brown bits left in the pan. Pour the chicken stock over the braised leeks.
Transfer the browned chicken thighs, one at a time, to the bowl containing the mustard mixture, slathering them completely. Return the mustard coated chicken thighs to the baking dish containing the braised leeks.
Spoon any of the remaining mustard mixture over the chicken. Then top each thigh with a handful of breadcrumbs, patting each one down with your hand so they get nicely coated. You want lots of mustard and lots of breadcrumbs.
Bake the chicken in the oven for 40 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through. To check for doneness, pierce the meat near the bone with a paring knife. The juices should run clear.
After 40 minutes turn the oven up to 475 degrees F and continue to cook the chicken thighs for 5 to 8 more minutes or so, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve in the baking dish or transfer to a platter accompanied by something to soak up the flavorful juices, such as pureed potatoes or steamed white rice.
The braised leeks wind up soft and sweet with a subtle oniony flavor. You could totally just do the leeks portion of this recipe and have a fantastic side dish to accompany roasted or grilled meats. A roasted turkey perhaps. Thanksgiving IS coming up soon. I mean, Thanksgiving sides always consist of potatoes and stuffing/dressing. Braised leeks are elegant and unexpected. It's also pretty hands off, great for entertaining.
The chicken thighs are moist and succulent, slathered with the sharp, tarragon tinged dijon mustard and topped with the nutty and crisp, golden brown butter breadcrumbs. The contrast in textures is delectable. Seriously, something as simple as toasted breadcrumbs is such a great way to add a delicate crunch to a dish that is normally doesn't have a crisp texture, such as chicken, fish or vegetables like asparagus or the afore mentioned braised leeks.
Even though this dish has kind of a lot of steps, most all of them can be done ahead of time. The leeks can be braised a day ahead. The crumb topping and mustard mixture can be done ahead of time, and you can even brown the chicken earlier and then as dinner time approaches, the dish can quickly assembled and baked off. Very easy.