One of the gifts Steve gave me for Christmas was a book called “The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs.” Unlike a cookbook, this is more of a reference book. Let’s say you found some sorrel in your local market and you’ve never cooked with it before. You don’t even know what it tastes like. A quick look at the book will tell you that sorrel goes with lentils, fish, and eggs but that it should be avoided in a salad. Or that sorrel, nutmeg, and ricotta cheese is a great combination.
I’d like to think that I have a really good appreciation for flavor combinations. Often when I cook without a recipe, I can actually imagine how different things will taste together and know what I should add to a dish to make it better without actually tasting it. Or at least I think I do. There are times when my flavor experiments fail, but others when they are really successful (like my broccoli, anchovy, black garlic concoction that ended up being incredibly addictive; I’m working on a recipe and will post soon).
So, when I saw a recipe for Caramel Chicken in Bon Appétit I was instantly intrigued and suspicious. I just couldn’t imagine those two flavors working together, which only made me more curious. So, I tried it and I was amazed at how well the recipe worked. Though, to be fair, the caramel here is very subtle. It’s more of a sour/salty sauce with caramel undertones. But it works. The problem with the original recipe was that it resulted in tough pieces of chicken covered in unappetizing fatty skin. So, I made a few changes and tried it again. This time, not only was the taste amazing, but the chicken was incredibly tender, with no fatty skin to distract from its caramel goodness. And I realized that the recipe name (Caramel Chicken) omitted a major component of the dish: the slow cooked garlic cloves that melt in your mouth and deliver the much needed depth to this dish. So, in addition to modifying the recipe, I adjusted its name.
Try it. You won’t be disappointed.
Caramel Garlic Chicken – Adapted from Bon Appétit
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
freshly ground pepper
8 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed with back of knife
⅓ cup (packed) light brown sugar
¼ cup (or more) unseasoned rice vinegar
3 slices ¼”-thick slices peeled ginger
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup soy sauce
black sesame seeds (optional)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Cooked white rice (for serving)
Preheat oven at 325° F.
Heat oil in a large wide oven-safe pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add three or four thighs in the pot. The thighs should not be crowded. Cook for 10-15 seconds on one side, turn and cook for another 10-15 seconds on second side (the thighs will not brown; they will just start to turn white). Remove thighs from pot and transfer to a plate. Don’t worry if a little bit of meat gets stuck at the bottom of the pot. Just leave it in there. Repeat the process for all the thighs.
Add garlic to pot and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 2 minutes; transfer to plate with chicken. Pour off fat from pot.
Return pot to medium-high heat and add ½ cup water, scraping up browned bits of chicken. Add brown sugar; stir to dissolve, then cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and turns a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. Carefully add vinegar (it may bubble up; sugar will crystallize); stir to dissolve sugar.
Add ginger, broth, and soy sauce, then add chicken and garlic. Bring to a boil, cover and place in oven. Cook for one hour, until thighs are fully cooked.
Remove thighs and garlic from the pot and transfer to a plate. Using two forks, separate thighs in bite-sized pieces. Discard ginger slices.
Place the pot on high heat and bring cooking liquid to a boil. Cook until slightly thickened, about 10-12 minutes. Return chicken and garlic to pot; turn to coat.
Serve over plain white rice and top with black sesame seeds (optional) and chopped scallions.