the other day, however, i got off the bus for a brief 20 minute shopping expedition (so brief because that was the amount of time before another bus came). i wanted to make a quick and easy thing with some chicken thighs. they're great because they are more flavorful and less prone to drying out than are chicken breasts. also they're usually cheaper. so, bonus (especially since we always use humanely-raised chicken, which is more expensive but Worth It).
i decided to make a dish i think of as vaguely french - chicken sort of braised (in beer!) with oil-cured black olives, citrus, and greens. this time i used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but it's great with regular ones. it just takes longer to cook. also sometimes instead of greens i use fennel and little potatoes. the citrus can be lemon or orange or something as well.
actually, i thought it was going to be orange in this dish, but what i remembered as an orange in our fridge turned out to be a grapefruit. luckily, it turned out to be more of a happy accident than a mistake, as the escarole and grapefruit really got along well. so well, in fact, that they are going to the movies this weekend and didn't even invite me. that grapefruit is such a friend-poacher.
who wouldn't love escarole, though? it shares a family line (chicory!) with things like endive, radicchio, and the chicory that so delightfully flavors new orleans-style coffee. like those other lovelies, it has a bit of a bitter edge that lets you know it means business. it's no baby spinach you're dealing with here.
but where cousin endive is a little buttoned-down and staid (all those leaves folded tightly together into a little bullet), escarole is frizzly and wild, letting its leaves go where they may with little regard for propriety. it's great in soups or as salad with maybe a hard-boiled egg vinaigrette and it's fantastic in this dish.
prep for this is really easy, as one would expect of any good weeknight dinner. just cut off the bottom stem thingy of the escarole and cut the leaves into about 1 inch lengths, moving up from the end.
the rest of the ingredients can be dispatched almost as simply. slice two cloves (or more) of garlic thinly and one medium shallot slightly less thinly. chop up some italian parsley. i actually leave the olives whole, but you could pit them if you want to be particularly fancy. use a microplane or similar to zest your citrus. i used the zest from about half of the grapefruit, as it's strong. if you use lemon, just chop it into eighths or something and don't bother zesting it first.
the citrus flesh (if you aren't using lemon) is the only part of this that could be a little fiddly. i like to cut the sections into supremes because i don't care for the membrane things around the meat part, especially when using grapefruit. if you want to just make thin slices going from pole to pole, however, i don't think it would be the end of the world. if you want to try your hand at supreming, here's a video. once you get the hang of it, it really doesn't take long.
once everything's cut up, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil on medium-high heat in a pan large enough to hold all of the chicken thighs in one layer. once the oil's shimmery, add the chicken (put a little salt and pepper on it first). don't move it for a couple of minutes, then check a piece to see if it's browned. you're basically just trying to sear it, not cook it through at this point. flip once and brown on the other side. once both sides are brown, set the pieces of chicken on a plate to wait.
turn the burner down to medium-low (i think it was at about 5 on our dumb electric stove) and heat a little more olive oil if necessary. add the shallot, let it cook for 30 seconds or so, then add the garlic and let them both go for another 30 seconds. then add the escarole. as with so many greens, it'll look like a ridiculous amount when you put it in, but it wilts down a great deal as it cooks.
after about a minute or three (or whenever it starts looking a bit dry), add about half a bottle of beer. i used anchor steam, because that's what was in the fridge. i think any good normal beer would work. you probably don't want a stout or a miller chill, but anything in between would probably be good. i also sometimes make this with a dry white wine or some dry vermouth and chicken stock. so you have options, if you don't want to use beer. but the beer was really good in it.
then add the chicken back (i usually cut it into large chunks before this, so it cooks faster), as well as the olives and parsley, the zest, and the grapefruit. turn the heat down to lowish and let it cook partly covered for half an hour or so until the chicken is done. i usually just take a piece out and cut into it to check, but you could also use a thermometer to make really sure. taste the broth and add salt and pepper, if necessary.
this is good as a sort of stew, if you have lots of crusty bread to dip in the amazing sauce that forms when all of those bold flavors mix and mingle and get friendly-like. it would also be great on pasta or some little boiled potatoes. or rice. or quinoa.
basically, it's versatile, tasty and pretty quick. not too bad for a wednesday night dinner.
*the chicken in the picture above is a classic example of how you should do as i say, not as i do. i totally didn't sear the chicken first (although i usually do) and it was not as good. definitely go for the browning step. also you don't get a sense of how saucy this is because i had to take a picture before it was done. stupid early-setting sun.
~ 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or more, if you are using regular chicken thighs)
1 head escarole
1 citrus fruit (grapefruit, orange, lemon)
2 cloves garlic
1 medium shallot
10 + oil-cured black olives (usually available in the fancy-olive section of the supermarket)
1/4 or 1/3 cup chopped italian parsley
1/2 a beer or similar amount of wine, stock, etc.
salt and pepper to taste