While sheltering in place during the pandemic, I find myself watching more cooking videos on YouTube than I’d like to admit. Many are a waste of time, but some, like the one that influenced today’s post, are inspiring. I discovered the video through Alison Roman’s “A Newsletter: Recipes, Stories, Unsolicited Advice.”
The recipe “One-Pot Chicken with Caramelized Lemon and Dates” originally appeared in Roman’s latest cookbook Nothing Fancy and was for a whole chicken. In the newsletter and video, however, she has adapted it for bone-in skin-on chicken parts to make the recipe more, in her words, “weeknight friendly.” And that it truly is, requiring not too many ingredients, only minimal prep, and just one pot.
What I especially like about Roman is her casual, unaffected approach to cooking, which definitely belies her passion for extracting maximum flavor from her chosen ingredients. Indeed, this recipe perfectly epitomizes her style.
The chicken is first seared, and then sort of “braise roasted” uncovered, along with shallots, thyme, red-pepper flakes, and thinly sliced lemons that have been caramelized in the chicken fat. The minimal braising medium, about a cup and a half of water, yields tender, succulent meat, while leaving the chicken skin crisp.
The pairing of tart lemons and sweet dates provides a counterpoint of flavors heightened by savory notes from the shallots, heat from the pepper flakes, and woodsy whispers from the thyme. The sauce brings all these elements together, adding even more succulence to the rich dark meat.
I pretty much followed the newsletter’s recipe, but substituted whole chicken legs for the thighs and olive oil for the canola. I may have erred in being a little heavy handed with the red-pepper flakes by going with almost 2 teaspoons. Similarly, even though I reduced the amount of water called for from 2 to 1 ½ cups, I believe I would have been better off using just 1. Finally, next time, I will probably add a few more dates because they were so good and may also quickly reduce the sauce over high heat to thicken it before spooning it around the chicken.
One final note: Roman urges her readers to savor the caramelized lemons with the chicken. Here’s what she says: “The whole lemon slices are meant to impart some bitterness as well as juiciness/tanginess/all the other hits you expect from lemon, so give them a chance, which is to say: please eat them!”
One-Pot Chicken with Caramelized Lemon and Dates (adapted from “A Newsletter” by Alison Roman)
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken legs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large lemon, cut into ¼-inch slices crosswise, seeds removed
2 shallots, unpeeled, halved lengthwise
6 Medjool dates, pitted
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1. Place the rack at the middle level, and preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat oil in a large oven-proof Dutch oven over medium–high heat. Place chicken, skin side down, and using tongs press lightly to make sure the skin comes into even contact with the pot. During this time, season the meat side of the chicken with salt and pepper.
4. Cook, without moving, until chicken skin is nice and browned, 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Remove the chicken and set aside.
6. Add the lemon slices and let them sizzle in the chicken fat until caramelized on one side, about 2 to 3 minutes.
7. Return the chicken to the pot, skin side up, along with any residual juices, and place lemons on top. Add the shallots, dates, and thyme.
8. Add about 1 to 1½ cups of water around the chicken, making sure to keep the skin dry and above the water. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with crushed red pepper flakes.
9. Return the pot, uncovered, to the oven and roast until the dates are plump, the lemon is jammy, and the chicken is cooked through and feels supple and tender, about 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken parts.
10. Serve on heated plates along with the lemons and dates, spooning the sauce around, but not over, the chicken. Before saucing, you may want to mash some of the dates into the sauce. I served our chicken accompanied by steamed couscous.
Wine: Alsatian Riesling