Some of the most skilled cooks I know — people who confidently roast, grill and fry — balk at the notion of braising. They think it’s more mysterious or fussy than other cooking methods. The opposite is true: Braising is extremely flexible, and it follows a formula.
You need only to understand the process. It involves gently simmering vegetables, fish, fowl or meat (or a combination) with a small amount of liquid, usually in a covered pot. Braising chicken is a good place to start, and it’s a lot easier than you think.
Indisputably, the best part of the bird for this project is the thigh. Though a whole chicken chopped in pieces can be braised, skip the heartache of overcooked breast meat.
A chicken thigh is nearly impossible to overcook. There is forgiveness — 10 minutes longer in the oven simply means a little more tenderness. I am not, however, referring to skinless, boneless thighs. You want skin-on, bone-in meat. Fat and bone both impart flavor.
To braise, you’ll want to season the meat and brown it in a pan, then add onions or other vegetables. Moisten it all with water, tomatoes, broth or wine and bake in a covered dish for an hour. Cook it until the meat gives no resistance when probed with a fork. Uncover the dish and bake another 10 to 15 minutes to give the dish more color and to concentrate the cooking liquid.
Lately, I have had my heart set on tangy braised chicken with apricots, lightly perfumed with saffron and very lemony. I imagined some commingling of Persian and North African spices.
Using the method above produced a remarkably flavorful braise. Adding a few coriander seeds, fennel seeds and cardamom pods changed the feel. Much more than the sum of its parts, this dish has a complexity that belies its easy preparation.