You’re not going to believe me, but I’m telling you the truth: the dinner you see above? It’s cheap and easy.
Don’t balk! I kid you not. Last Monday, I made this dinner for less than $20 and it was one of the best things that I’ve made in a long time. I didn’t even use a recipe, I just whipped it up based on an idea I had. The idea went something like this: what if I buy chicken thighs and braise them in white wine vinegar with onions, garlic, olives, capers, and cherry tomatoes and serve it all on plain couscous? It seemed like a foolproof plan for deliciousness.
Here’s what makes it cheap: a package of chicken thighs, with skin still attached, is like $7. Here’s what makes it easy: when you get home, put a skillet on medium/high heat, coat it with olive oil, then open the package, blot the chicken thighs dry and sprinkle them all over with salt and pepper. Then add them to the skillet, skin-side down, while you go prep the other ingredients. This ensures that you let them get good and golden brown.
Flip them over, sear the other side, then remove to a plate. It was at this point I saw a cauliflower peeking out at me in my vegetable basket and I thought: “What if I sear the cauliflower in that same pan and braise it along with the chicken?” I knew I’d have to cut the cauliflower into big pieces so it’d cook at the same rate as the chicken, so that’s what I did.
Once good and brown (and seasoned), I put that on the plate with the chicken and added an onion which I allowed to cook down for a while. As that happens, you can finish your dinner prep (lower the heat a bit and you’ll have plenty of time).
To the caramelized onion, add 3 or 4 cloves of sliced garlic.
When that turns fragrant, deglaze with 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar. It’ll sizzle and spurt; work up the brown bits as it does, then add a handful of cherry tomatoes cut in half.
At this point, everything goes back in: the chicken and the cauliflower. Then I covered with water and another splash of white wine vinegar. I didn’t want it to be too acidic, you can play around with the ratio.
Here’s where you add a big sprinkling of capers and pitted Kalamata olives. I brought it to an active simmer, added a pinch of salt, covered and lowered the heat, allowing it all to cook for 30 minutes. Then I removed the lid and allowed it to continue cooking while also evaporating some of the liquid, to concentrate the sauce. Also, I sprinkled it with a little parsley.
I also cooked a package of plain couscous which is as easy as bringing water to a boil, adding the couscous, covering with a lid, turning off the heat and, 3 minutes later, fluffing with a fork.
People, this dinner was so good, I can’t even tell you. The key is that mixture of white wine vinegar and water: it makes for an acidic, bright undercurrent that isn’t overwhelming. Then all of that additional flavor from the olives and capers and cherry tomatoes and garlic just takes it over the top.
It’s not often that I invent a dish that becomes a weekly staple, but this one is bound for glory. Can’t wait to make it again.
Recipe: Braised Chicken Thighs and Cauliflower with Olives and Capers
Summary: An original recipe by yours truly.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- A package of chicken thighs (with bones and skin), about 5 or 6 meaty thighs
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cauliflower, cut into large florets
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, plus more to taste
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 3/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
- 2 tablespoons capers
- Freshly chopped parsley
- Plain couscous, cooked according to package directions
- Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Meanwhile, pat the chicken thighs dry and season them all over with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, add the chicken (skin-side down; it should sizzle) and walk away. You want these to get good and brown, so don’t play with them. Leave them alone and then check after 3 to 4 minutes with a pair of tongs. If you can’t lift it and the skin is sticking, keep cooking. It’ll detach when it’s done. Then flip over and sear on the other side.
- Remove the chicken to the plate and add the cauliflower florets to the hot oil. Sprinkle with salt and sear on all sides until golden brown (do this quickly; you don’t want the cauliflower to get too cooked at this stage). Remove to the same plate as the chicken.
- Add the onion, sprinkle with salt, and move it all around to collect the brown bits on the bottom. Do this on medium-high heat and as the onion starts to color, you can lower the heat. If you have time, you can cook it for a long time until it’s almost jam-like in its concentrated sweetness; if you don’t have time for that, just cook it until it’s brown like you saw in the picture.
- Add the garlic. Cook until fragrant (like 30 seconds) then carefully add the white wine vinegar–careful, it’ll sizzle. Use that to work up all the brown bits then add the cherry tomatoes and another sprinkle of salt. Stir around for 30 seconds, then add the chicken and cauliflower back. Cover with water and another splash of white wine vinegar–a big splash–and add in the olives and capers. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover and cook for 30 minutes. (Check every so often to make sure the mixture is lightly bubbling.)
- After 30 minutes, remove the lid and taste the sauce. If it’s watery and not flavorful enough, add more white wine vinegar. Also: adjust for salt. Cook another 15 minutes, allowing the sauce to conentrate and taste one last time.
- Sprinkle everything with parsley and serve it up over couscous. There won’t be any leftovers, promise.
I say prep time is “15 minutes” but really, you can get started right away as soon as you walk through the door. Just heat your oil, start searing your chicken and while that’s searing, cut your cauliflower into florets. While those are searing, slice your onion and so on. It’s a lot faster this way.
You could also use leftover white wine instead of white wine vinegar. It’ll make for a more elegant, less bold dinner, which maybe you’d prefer, Mister Fancy Pants.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 45 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4