Small, Good Things: Panning for Gold

By Joe Dizney

Regardless of your thoughts on climate change, this has been a relatively mild winter season, with days — weeks, even — feeling more like blustery days in March than your typical bleak midwinter. But the disorderly seasonal affectations of winter light still leave a transplanted Southerner with the blahs, if not the blues.

It’s usually at this point in the year when the comfort of comfort food — warm and tasty things like casseroles or roasts, soups and stews — becomes apparent. But the time constraints of life and livelihood sometimes preclude the temporal commitment such long, slow cooking requires. Menu planning becomes more about techniques than ingredients or recipes.

In times like these, the pan roast is your friend.

Pan-roasting combines a quick stovetop fry-up or browning with an almost equally rapid finish in a hotter-than-average oven. The ultimate and desired result is twofold: a crispy, browned (i.e., caramelized and flavorful) exterior and an optimally cooked interior.

Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Green Olives (Photo by J. Dizney)

For meats, such as this dish of bone-in chicken thighs, the browning optimizes flavor while roasting ensures a fully cooked-through but beautifully moist interior. (For sturdy seafood or even vegetables like cauliflower, the results are equally dependable and delicious.)

The deep culinary secret to this method is that the process of browning and roasting in the same pan also leaves you with lots of crispy browned bits — I am borrowing the term gribenes (“grib-nez”) from Yiddish cooking — in the pan that contribute to a nearly instantaneous sauce created by returning the same pan, post-roast, to the stovetop for a quick deglaze with wine or stock and an extra hit of flavorful elements or herbs.

A final mounting of the sauce with chilled butter creates a luxurious dish that checks all the right boxes for winter weeknight sustenance and satisfaction.

This column has extolled the sunny, offseason culinary joys of preserved lemons, and you can make your own easily. But for immediate gratification, preserved lemons are available at the Beacon Pantry deli counter, on the shelf at Nature’s Pantry in Fishkill or online at bebertsmoroccancondiments.com. Preserved lemons are a useful winter pantry item and great for all sorts of stews, sauces and vinaigrettes for meats, seafood, vegetables (particularly brassicas).

In this recipe, chopped and pitted green olives (try Italian Castelvetrano, Cerignola or Spanish Manzanilla, but almost any will do) accentuate the surprising sweetness of the lemons. Served over rice (brown or white), other grains (quinoa?) or even Israeli couscous, this is a dish guaranteed to bring a little sunshine back into your life.

Chicken Pan-Roast with Preserved Lemon & Green Olives

Chef Aaron Wright, The Washington Post | 2 servings

4 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon each thyme, rosemary and sage
¼ cup dry white wine (or substitute additional stock)
¾ cup chicken or vegetable broth
½ preserved lemon, rinsed and chopped roughly
12 pitted green olives, halved or quartered
2 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in an ovenproof skillet (cast iron suggested) over medium heat. When hot, add chicken skin side down and cook long enough to crisp and lightly brown the skin, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn pieces skin side up and transfer pan to hot oven, roasting for 7 to 10 minutes until cooked through.
  3. Remove pan from oven and remove chicken from the pan with tongs. Reserve and keep warm. Drain all but 2 tablespoons fat. Return pan to the stove top on medium heat and when hot add shallot and garlic and stir for a minute to cook. Add herbs and stir for another minute. Deglaze pan with wine or substituted stock, using a spoon or spatula to free the browned bits.
  4. Add broth and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to slightly reduce the stock. Stir in preserved lemon and olives. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for another minute or so. Whisk in butter and return chicken to the pan just long enough to reheat. Adjust seasoning and serve hot over rice, grains or couscous.
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