Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Ohhhh do I love a juicy chicken thigh- forget the boobies, the thighs are where it’s at! They have so much more flavor and and are much less likely to dry out on you. I do enjoy chicken breasts in certain quick cooking applications- think milanese, parmesan, or marinated, grilled and sliced for a salad- but for lower and slower cooking in a liquid, aka braising, the dark meat is what you want.
We are entering prime “braising” season. The cooler evenings have me hankering for recipes that slowly simmer to reveal tender, succulent results. This Chicken with Mustardy Leeks and Tarragon is the perfect dish to prep on a crisp autumn evening! The flavors here are inspired by Poulet a la Moutarde, a rustic French dish featuring chicken pieces braised in a mustard sauce. My non traditional mustard chicken is slightly streamlined and lightened a tad- I think you’re gonna “leek” it a lot.
Speaking of which, let’s take a quick peek at leeks: they are probably my favorite allium and have a milder, sweeter and more delicate onion flavor. They can be a bit of a pain to prep, but the extra effort is well worth it. You want to cook only with the white and light green stalk of the leek, trimming and discarding the root end and reserving the dark green tops for making stocks if you like. Then, you need to give them a very good rinse to release any grit hiding in those leeky nooks and crannies (they grow in sandy soil). I like to slice the leeks, put them in a colander and then rinse them thoroughly over the sink to clean them well. The leeks in this dish cook down into the sauce until they are almost meltingly tender- it’s a beautiful thing! If you can’t find leeks at the store or would prefer not to use them, thinly sliced yellow onions would make a lovely substitute.
If you would prefer, you could use both thighs and drumsticks in this recipe and it would be delish! You could try breasts as well, just be sure to adjust the braising time as they will cook more quickly than those dark pieces will. By the way, do you own a meat thermometer? No? Then please go grab one! I like the simple digital ones- the fancier thermometers that sync up to apps always leave me confused and the old fashioned dial thermometers never seem to be very accurate. Using a thermometer will take the worry of guessing off your plate and make you a more confident cook. The nice thing about using thighs in this recipe is that even if you do slightly over cook them, they will stay nice and juicy thanks to that mustardy bath they braise in, laden with a combo of dijon and whole grain mustards. I like using the smooth Dijon for heat snd pungent flavor, while the whole grain mustard adds a bit of light texture to the overall dish. This one keeps getting rave reviews- you MUST(ard) give it a try!
prep time: ~15 min. cook time: ~45 min. serves: 4-6
2-1/2- 3 lbs bone in skin on thighs (about 6 large or 8 smaller)
3 large leeks, white and light green part only, thinly sliced
2 plump cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 rounded tbsp dijon mustard
2 rounded tbsp grainy dijon mustard
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp creme fraiche
1/4 cup minced tarragon plus extra for garnish
Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large lidded pan. Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels and season them liberally with salt and pepper all over. When the oil is hot, add the thighs to sear skin side down in batches to fit for 5-7 minutes, until the skin is brown. Flip to brown on the other side another few minutes, about 10 minutes total. Remove the thighs to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken thighs.
Pour all but 1 tbsp of the fat out of the pan, reduce the heat to medium and add 1 more tbsp of oil, along with the leeks and 1/2 tsp salt. Sauté the leeks 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they have reduced in size and softened significantly. Next, add the garlic and thyme and stir to cook 1 min more. Deglaze with the wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan, and simmer 2 minutes to reduce. Add the stock, both mustards, 1/2 tsp salt and a few cranks of black pepper and whisk to combine. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Return the thighs to the pan skin side up on top of the sauce, cover and let them braise 20-25 minutes over low heat, or until they register 165° on a meat thermometer. Check them occasionally to make sure the sauce isn’t drying out, adding a splash of stock if needed.
Remove the chicken thighs to a serving platter to rest and allow the sauce to simmer uncovered 2-3 minutes more to thicken up if needed. Off the heat, stir in the tarragon and creme fraiche until incorporated. Arrange the thighs back on top of the mustardy leeks and sprinkle with extra tarragon. Serve hot, portioning 1 large or 2 small thighs and a heaping scoop of the mustardy leeks per person.