Braised Chicken Breast with Leeks and Olives
- 6 chicken breast halves, bone-in and skin-on
- 2-3 t. kosher salt, divided
- ½ t. coarse ground black pepper
- 3 T. olive oil, divided
- 4 leeks, trimmed and cleaned, cut into 1” pieces
- 2 T. minced garlic
- 6 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 fresh oregano sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- ¾ c. green olives cut in half
- ½ c. red wine
- 1½ c. chicken stock or broth
- 1 t. lemon zest
- 2 T. unsalted butter, optional
- ¼ c. cold water or broth, optional
- 2 T. corn starch, optional
The night before making the dish, season the chicken with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cover and refrigerate.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or a large ovenproof sauce pan. Add the chicken; brown for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside on a plate or sheet tray.
Add the leeks to the pan; reduce heat to medium and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic; sauté for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock or broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; add chicken, thyme, oregano, bay leaf and olives; simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F.
Cover pan and place in oven for 1 hour turning chicken halfway through.
Remove pan from oven. Transfer chicken, olives and leeks to a warm serving platter. Discard herb stems and bay leaf. Add lemon zest to the liquid in the pan. To make a pan sauce, bring the liquid to simmer; remove from heat and stir in butter. To make a thickened sauce, mix ¼ cup cold water or broth with corn starch; while whisking add corn starch liquid to the simmering pan liquid and cook until thickened. Season sauce with salt to taste. Ladle the finished sauce over the chicken, olives and leeks.
Learn More About Leeks
Europeans refer to leeks as “poor man’s asparagus” presumably because of their delicate flavor yet relatively thrifty price tag. Or perhaps it’s the green portion sticking out of the ground that has earned leeks the title. Otherwise leeks have little in common with asparagus.
The leek is a member of the allium family. Most onions have a bulb—not so for leeks. With their long cylindrical white stalk and flat, strap-like green leaves, leeks might best be described as giant scallions. Wild leeks, also known as ramps, are smaller in size but have a more intense flavor.
Leeks require a long growing season. They begin appearing in the farmers’ markets by late summer and are available through the fall, winter and early spring. Look for leeks that proportionately have more white than green with a firm, white stalk and stiff green leaves.
The leek’s white portion is the prize. That’s why farmers mound soil up around the stem of the growing plant, shielding it from the sun. Leeks grow in tightly wrapped layers of leaves forming crannies where dirt particles are trapped. The result is a vegetable that is notoriously dirty.
To clean a leek:
- Cut away the top green portion just where the vegetable turns from white to light green and peel away any dry layers. Discard the green leaves or keep them to use when making stock.
- Cut away the root just enough to keep the base intact.
- Slice the white portion in half lengthwise.
- Swish gently in a bowl of cold water. Change the water as needed and continue swishing until thoroughly clean.
Small, tender leeks can be sliced and used in salads or left whole to steam or grill. Larger leeks can be featured in soups and stews where their texture almost melts as it cooks. Slice leeks thin and deep fry as a unique garnish. Anyway you use them, leeks will offer subtle onion flavor to enhance your dish.
Peggy Crum MA, RD
Za’atar enhances Chef’s recipe 3 times: 1) toasted with the vegetables to bring out its deep notes 2) added as the herbal ingredient in the finishing vinaigrette 3) a light dusting right before serving to preserve its lighter, more delicate flavors.