I was of 2 minds about whether to post about this past Friday night’s dinner. After all, a lot of you are experienced cooks and this is isn’t exactly what I would call a recipe or anything particularly difficult. However, then I figured everyone needs easy, weekday meals (you know, for days when a stray dog disrupts your life).
I grew up on slow cooked beef, i.e., braised chuck. So I have been cooking it for a while. But for whatever reason my mom never made other braised meat dishes and so I have only just recently been experimenting with them. (It’s weird how you can master something really exotic, like Thai curries, and then realize you have never made a basic braised chicken). Anyway, the basic idea is this: find a salsa you like, combine it with chicken, liquid and dried beans, and let it cook all day. Easy taco filling right there. This is the one I made on Friday:
4 chicken breasts, bone-in and skin on (if you use dark meat, feel free to skin it but I think a braise benefits from some fat in the dish and you can discard the skin after it is cooked)
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 sweet bell pepper, sliced (i.e., not green)
1 jar, 15 oz, of your favorite salsa (I used a tomato AND tomatillo one, so the final color was a little muddied but quite tasty)
1 bottle of your favorite lighter beer (i.e., not stout) (I used Corona)
8 oz dried beans*
2 ½ tablespoons of flour
1-? Chipotles in adobo, minced, optional (this is to taste and if cooking for children you may just want to leave out. Alex is going through an anti-spicy phase so I left it out this time)
drizzle of vegetable oil
This dish could easily be made in a slow cooker. I own 2 Dutch ovens and they are my method of choice. Likewise, you could skip the browning, but I really like the depth of flavor that browning gives the dish.
Preheat the oven to 225 F.Heat a Dutch oven(I used a 5 qt oval for this dish)up on the stove top on medium high.Dry the chicken breasts, salt and pepper both sides and sear in a drizzle of vegetable oil.Be careful not to overcrowd the pan—do in 2 batches if need be.
Meanwhile, pour a little of the beer into a small mixing bowl and add the flour.Whisk to combine until there are no lumps.
Remove the chicken when it has been browned on both sides.Pour the beer into the pot to deglaze the surface, scraping at the browning bits to mix them into the liquid.Add the flour-beer mixture as well as the chipotle peppers (if using) and salsa.Mix in the dried beans. Lay the chicken, skin side up and in one layer, into the pan, on top of the bean mixture.Cover the chicken with the onions and peppers.
Take a large piece of parchment paper and press it into the pot until it hovers right above the food (almost but not quite touching it).The paper should be large enough that the edges hang over the sides of the pot.Place a heavy and tight fitting lid over the parchment paper (foil will work if you have no lid).Place in the oven.Let cook at least 7 hours, preferably 8.You can adjust it to more or less time by turning the temperature up or down correspondingly, but the longer, lower and slower you cook the chicken the more it will fall apart—which is how I like it.Plus the longer it cooks, the earlier you can get it going and the more time you have to get other stuff done before dinner.Be sure you don’t try to cook it in too short of time for your beans to get done.
Pull your chicken out of the oven 1-2 hours before dinner time—if it does not look like there is enough liquid to cook the beans (the beans should all be completely covered by liquid) add some water or stock.In my experience, all beans are different.I have made this where it needed more water and where what I started with was plenty.At this point you can also remove the breasts, bone and skin them (and discard the bones—all of the goodness has been sucked out of them at this point anyway) and then shred the meat, placing it back into the pot.
I like to serve this with warm corn tortillas, sour cream, cilantro, grated or crumbled cheese (Monterey Jack, queso fresco, etc, whatever I have)and Tapatio sauce.
*I recommend you make this dish with dried beans that you are fairly certain have not sat on a shelf (yours or the grocery store’s) for super long as they will take too long to cook.A mail order (or maybe locally availably for you lucky West coasters) source like Rancho Gordo sells excellent heirloom beans.Their turnover is such that the beans are always fairly fresh.
I’ve said it myself a gazillion times, especially when I am making complicated international meals for guests.“Oh you can bring dessert please.”Well, we, the whole family, were invited out to dinner tonight.When we asked what we could bring they said dessert.Excellent—another reason to open one of my new baking books!
Except I ended up getting the recipe off of the internet. I think it is because I just made those brownies. They were delectable and rich and oh-so-chocolatey. I felt like every recipe I looked at had too much chocolate in it, I wanted a break. You may never read the phrase on my blog again—it must be a post-holiday binge thing. Or something. So I was scanning my computer files where I keep all recipes I come upon when I found this Vanilla Bean Loaf recipe. Perfect!
I was attracted to this recipe not just for its uniqueness and lack of chocolate, but also because I have been wanting to use my Tahitian vanilla beans.It all started this past fall when I decided I was going to make my own vanilla extract.I did some research and the folks over at the CLBB had really good things to say about the The Organic Vanilla Bean Company [Update: as os 2022 they do not seem to be online anymore and a lot has change regarding buying vanilla beans, the price has gone up and down a lot, I recommend you search online]. There were mixed opinions on whether to buy Tahitian (a fruitier bean that a lot of professional chefs prefer) or Bourbon (the more standard vanilla that most of our extract are made from), so I bought both. I am nothing if not excessive.
Since then I have been reading in these various new baking books I got over the holidays, and a lot of the authors do indeed prefer Tahitian beans. The general consensus seems to be that Bourbon is fine if it is all you can get, Bourbon is preferred when the vanilla is a backnote, and Tahitian is preferred when you really want to make vanilla the star. I can tell you from regular side by side sniffings of my steeping homemade extracts that the Tahitian is fruitier and sharper while the Bourbon is more mellow and caramel-like. And that I really prefer the Tahitian, much to my surprise. Well I wanted to make vanilla the star and I wanted an excuse to dabble with my Tahitian beans, so out they came. My extract is not really as aged as I want it yet, so I used extra extract and I used a lot of beans. The results were really striking so even if my extract is at full strength next time I might still use all the extra beans. Josie and I were talking about it and we both figured there is no such thing as too much vanilla, there is only such thing as too much money spent on vanilla. But I had bought in bulk and I already had them so that was not an issue.
A note on buying the vanilla beans in bulk: it is my understanding that if you store the beans properly they have an excellent shelf life, so if you do any regular baking whatsoever and really like vanilla, I highly recommend buying some in bulk and storing them.The quality is much higher than in those little individual glass jars anyway, and they tend to be fresher.Mine are super plump and moist.
Tahitian Vanilla Bean Loaf
Adapted from Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser & the recipe as posted on the CLBB (discussed here)
This cake is a Parisian style pound cake (heavier and denser than an American pound cake).It is made extra special by basting after baking with a vanilla simple syrup that gives it intensified vanilla flavor and aroma, as well as a slightly crispy crust.
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/8 cups granulated sugar
4 Tahitian vanilla beans*
1 T Tahitian vanilla extract (2 if using weaker homemade)
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups AP flour
¾ t baking powder
¼ t salt
First prepare the vanilla sugar.Elsewhere I have advocated making vanilla sugar by storing my sugar with “used” vanilla beans.But for this recipe I wanted a really strong, spectacular vanilla flavor.Plus I wanted the Tahitian bean flavor, and my stored vanilla sugar is from Bourbon beans.So I made fresh vanilla sugar. Take 3 of the vanilla beans, split them down the middle, and chop into 1 inch segments. Dump these segments into a food processor with all of the sugar and process until combined. (My processor’s blade is getting a little old and dull—I finally had to settle for leaving some bits of vanilla bean that were bigger than I would have liked. The pieces that went into the batter softened from heat and moisture and were fine. I did strain the syrup.) Divide the sugar into 1 ¼ cups and 7/8 cup.
Heavily butter a 4 X 8 loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Cream the butter and 1 ¼ cups vanilla sugar until pale and fluffy. Split the 4th vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the batter. Reserve the bean for steeping in the syrup. Add the vanilla extract and eggs and beat to combine.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.Add to the butter mixture and mix until smooth.Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl.At the end, fold the batter a few times yourself, being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl and fully incorporate the flour into the batter.Pour the batter into the buttered loaf pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake the loaf for 30 minutes and then rotate the pan.Bake an additional 25-40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean (it was closer to 40 minutes in my oven).
While the loaf is baking, combine ½ cup water, the 7/8 cup sugar and the scraped vanilla bean in a small saucepan.Heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.Then turn off the heat and leave the syrup sitting with the bean in it.
When the loaf comes out of the oven, let it cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes in the pan.After the 10 minutes is up, strain your vanilla syrup to remove the vanilla bean bits and the large bean.Turn the loaf out onto the cooling rack (I had some difficulty with this step—this is a difficult cake to get to come out.You will probably need to gently run a knife around the sides of the cake.As you can see from my picture, it did not come out perfectly but it came out in one piece which I considered a success.I am not sure if lining the loaf pan with parchment paper—always a PIA endeavor, would not be a better method.So be sure to butter your pan thoroughly—or try the parchment paper).After the cake is turned out onto a cooling rack, place a jelly roll pan underneath it and baste the cake on all sides, with the strained syrup. Repeat several times (I did twice, but might be tempted to do 3 next time). Let the loaf cool and then slice and serve.
*If you cannot get Tahitian beans or you need to use less beans, I am convinced this cake will still come out good. However, it might not be so fragrant. Our host exclaimed over the aroma of the cake, and I really think it was due to the beans.