Odd question, but how are your ribs these days? Hungry? Windswept? Chilly? Maybe they’re just bored, because The Bachelor is a rerun again? Or perhaps they’re otherwise in need of a meal that’ll stick to them?
In any case, I think this will do. You got your carbs, you got your autumn flavors, you got your beer, and you got your tender, falling-off-the-bone meat. A little browning, a little braising, a little boozing, a little let’s-throw-pumpkin-in-our-polenta-because-we’re-not-total-grinches-and-’tis-the-season.
If you make this meal before heading out to brave whatever it is you brave in the wet drizzle, it’ll make you feel invincible. If you make it after you’ve gone and conquered whatever it is you set out to do—even if it’s just retrieving a bunch of those Bed Bath & Beyond coupons from your mailbox—it’ll make you feel alive again. You can’t lose.
Everything that starts with a bunch of onions and ends with a bunch of herbs is worth eating. It almost doesn’t matter what happens in the middle.
As for the polenta: Be still my heart. Plain polenta—just cornmeal, water, salt, pepper, a small pat of butter or a drizzle of olive oil—is enough to make me swoon. Add pumpkin, cheese, and herbs, and cook it in broth for extra flavor? That is a danger zone, compadres. I had to stick to making a half-batch of this stuff. To know thyself, etc. That’s why, if you follow the recipe, the amounts will look different.
I will confess that I used to be dead-set against braising skin-on chicken. Cue mental image of soggy, soft, rubbery, pale… (Basically what would happen to me if you left me in a basement for two weeks and let me have all the polenta I want.) In my world, chicken skin is only worth having around if it is crispy and browned. And this is still true, but I was wrong to be so rigid about it. We can have it both ways. Just brown the thighs first, keep the braising liquid on the low side, and you’ll still have crazy-tender meat and crispy skin. Chicken, guys. Never ceases to amaze me.
I’m still working with it—the light, the mood, the time of day, the right spots. Finding my groove and all that. “Between 11 and 2 in the summer, out on the deck, f/2.8 and shutter speed of 1/640” doesn’t quite work anymore. This is exactly the kind of challenge (well, one of them) I’ve been needing. It’s been really fun so far.
Not to jinx myself, but the train is rolling now, guys. I can’t wait to cook and share more. I’ll be saying hello again very soon, and will probably ask you more strange questions about your body parts. That’s what chums do.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
- 1 1/2 cups dark beer (dark rye kolsch-style beer used here)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup polenta (medium-ground cornmeal)
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat olive oil in large dutch oven or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. (Preferably, you want something you can cover and transfer to the oven to braise; if you don't have anything like that, do this in a regular saute pan, then transfer to an ovenproof dish.) Add chicken thighs, skin down, and cook until browned, about 3-4 minutes. Resist the temptation to move them. Flip and brown the other side as well.
- Remove chicken from the pan and pour off most of the fat, leaving just about a tablespoon. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 3 minutes or so. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the bay leaves, mustard, thyme, beer, a couple pinches of salt and some pepper. Whisk mixture together and put the chicken thighs back into the pan, skin side up.
- Cover pan or dutch oven, place in oven and braise about 30 minutes, covered. Then, remove the cover and braise for 30 more minutes, until liquid is reduced and meat is tender. Make polenta while meat is braising.
- Bring the water or stock to a boil. Whisk the polenta in slowly, followed by the pumpkin and thyme, and continue stirring until mixture thickens--2 to 3 minutes.
- Lower heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes or so, stirring often. Slowly add water, 1/2 cup at a time, if mixture becomes too thick. Cook until the grain is swollen and tastes cooked, not raw. Then, remove from heat, stir in the parmesan, and season with salt (you may not need any) and pepper.