An old favorite found its way to our table this weekend, Chicken Thighs, with Saffron, Green Olives and Mint. I had forgotten how good this dish is with its sweet and savory onions, tangy olives, and whiffs of saffron and fresh mint. The long cooking time, actually a braise, renders chicken thighs with meat that falls of the bone and a rich sauce just waiting to be sopped up by couscous. The saffron and mint lead me to believe the origins of the dish are Sicilian, or perhaps even Moroccan.
Even with its use of costly saffron, the recipe exemplifies the simplicity of Italian cooking and how it can yield a dish with a complexity of flavors and textures. The recipe comes from Mario Batali’s first cookbook, Simple Italian Food, written early in his career, dedicated to his wife and two children, and published twenty one years ago in 1998. Given his recent fall from favor due to multiple accusations of deplorable behavior, I considered not publishing this post. Like many today, I would neither patronize his businesses nor buy his products. His understandable downfall, however, does not negate his contribution to Italian cooking in the United States or his influence on my own culinary development. I learned a great deal from his early shows on the Food Network as well as from several of his books and dining at his restaurants. And today’s post is just one example.
Chicken Thighs, with Saffron, Green Olives and Mint (from Simple Italian Food by Mario Batali)
- 12 chicken thighs (2 1/2 to 3 pounds) (Since I was cooking for two, I used only 6 chicken thighs.)
- salt and pepper
- all-purpose flour, for dredging
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large red onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads (Because I like saffron, I used a full teaspoon.)
- 1 cup small green olives (I used pitted Castelvetrano olives that we had on hand.)
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
- Season the chicken thighs liberally with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.
- In a heavy-bottomed casserole, heat the olive oil until smoking. Add 6 thighs at a time and brown well on all sides over medium-high heat. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining thighs.
- When well browned, remove the thighs and add the sliced onions and saffron to the casserole. Cook over low heat until the onions have softened, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the olives, carrot, and stock and bring to a boil.
- Return the chicken pieces to the casserole, submerging them in the stock, and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot tightly and simmer 1 hour.
- Remove the lid and cook 10 minutes uncovered.
- Remove the chicken thighs from the casserole and arrange on a platter.
- Season the sauce with salt and pepper and stir in the mint leaves. Pour the sauce over the chicken thighs and serve.
Serve this on a bed of couscous.
Wine Pairing: Grillo, Garganega