Braised Chicken Thighs with Pumpkin, Soy, and Ginger

A Belly Warming Braise for a Cold Night

I may have over 300 cookbooks in my collection, but it often seems that I make the same rotation of dishes over and over again. Such is life, right?--we always seem to revert to our comfort zone whether in the kitchen or the world. I've been slowly working to change this by doing more than just reading all of those cookbooks and while I'm pleased to say that I've been successful in expanding my repertoire, I must admit that I can't follow a recipe to save my life. Is this the trait of any cook? I'd like to think that cooks, in general, are forever tinkering, adding, changing, and adapting recipes to suit their own tastes. Equal parts instinct and creativity, perhaps.

Anyhow, now that the nightly temperatures are starting to dance in the low 30's and my mid-century floor furnace is groaning and coming back to life, I don't seem to want to cook anything that isn't braised low and slow, saucy, fragrant and bone-warming. You know, the perfect supper to ladle into a big bowl, top with a handful of freshly chopped herbs and then savor while sitting on the sofa wrapped in a warm blanket with a glass of wine within easy reach.

I'm not sure how to categorize this recipe. I discovered it in one of my cookbooks, A Change of Appetite, by Diana Henry. The idea of braising meaty chicken thighs and chunks of pumpkin in a savory and complex sauce was compelling enough, but since I had just harvested the last pumpkin from my garden and had spent several days wondering when and how to cook it, coming across the recipe seemed a fortuitous coincidence that shouldn't be ignored. Besides, the recipe was an apt foundation for creative and delicious departure, a tantalizing proposition for any home cook.

Braised Chicken Thighs with Pumpkin, Soy, and Ginger

8 bone-in, skin-on, meaty chicken thighs
1 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely minced
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 T freshly minced ginger
2 T finely minced jalapeno pepper
2 Star Anise
salt and pepper

2 lbs of pumpkin (or other starchy winter squash) peeled and cut into chunks

2 T soy sauce (low-sodium)
2 T pure maple syrup
2 T fish sauce
2 T rice vinegar
2 T packed dark brown sugar
2 T fresh squeezed orange juice
2 T water
3 to 4 strips of orange zest

Freshly chopped cilantro
Minced green onions, green part only
Freshly squeezed lime juice
Chopped peanuts

1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan over medium high heat until hot.
2. Generously salt and pepper the chicken thighs.
3. Add the chicken thighs, skin down, and cook until golden brown and easily released from the pan.
4. Remove chicken to a plate.
5. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno to the pan and cook until the onion is soft and the ingredients fragrant.
6. Add the chicken thighs back, distributing some of the onion mixture to the top of the thighs.
7. In a separate bowl, mix together the soy sauce, maple syrup, fish sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, orange juice and water; pour the mixture into the pan and bring to a boil.
8. Add the pumpkin.
9. Add the Star Anise and orange zest.
10. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, lid slightly ajar, until the chicken thighs are cooked through.
11. Just before serving, stir in fresh lime juice and fresh ground black pepper to taste; adjust salt.
12. Add a generous handful of chopped cilantro and minced green onions.
13. Completely cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes.
14. Ladle over cooked brown Basmati rice and top with additional chopped cilantro, green onions and a dusting of chopped peanuts.

*Recipe adapted from Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite


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