Genius Recipes

The Key to the Most Flavorful Braised Chicken on the Block

That sauce!

February 13, 2019

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

I bet you’ve had this deflating feeling before. You get to the end of cooking and all the work and nuanced layers of flavor you thought you’d built—poof!—have gone missing. Suddenly all you taste is lemon (or cumin or rosemary), and somehow each bite tastes both too salty and not salty enough? Even teacherly insistence to taste as you go! can’t always save us from this feeling.

For me, this happens much too often, and especially so with chicken—America’s #1 meat love and maybe the least taste-as-you-go-able ingredient there is. There are lots of ways we can try to outpace flat chicken—dry-brining and wet-brining and feta-brining; choosing smaller, richer cuts like thighs and legs; coaxing out precious crispy skin, flavorless meat’s most distracting security blanket.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

But in this cozy, fierce hug of a braised chicken recipe (1), New Orleans-based chef Donald Link attacks from another angle that we should start considering—one that doesn’t necessitate marinating or brining ahead, but creates some of the most richly flavored, not-flat chicken I’ve ever tasted (and a sauce like gold).

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Even the leaner breast meat doesn’t lose luster, despite generally being ill-equipped for braising—it lacks the fat and other fun bits that transform slow-cooking thighs and legs into the stuff that made “meltingly tender” a food writing cliché. White meat is never meltingly tender. But here, it comes close.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Admittedly, this sauce has a lot of good things going for it—tomato paste and white wine and browned onions and fennel—but the pin that holds them all together and makes this recipe unforgettable in a sea of chickens? The deeper, richer seasoning that comes from not just salt, but foods cured in salt—in this case, green olives and salami.

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Top Comment:
“I chose thighs over a whole chicken. Cooking time and temperature were too high and long. I reduced both and basted often. Thank you for a lovely recipe. With appreciation 👍🏻”
— Susie S.

“I’m...a salt fanatic,” Link writes in his cookbook Down South (2), “and really like the way the olives and salami add layers of salty flavor that you cannot get from the seasoning alone.”

Photo by Bobbi Lin

As much as plain old salt is crucial for bringing out other flavors, there are even more powerful forms we could be taking better advantage of—I’m not talking about pricey infused salts, but the basic bottles and bags of ingredients we have hanging around that have already spent time mingling with salt and taking on new funky dimensions—pickles, miso, bacon!

We see the benefits of this any time we slip an anchovy into our pasta or soy sauce into our salad dressing, but we could be even looser in what we consider “salt to taste” and when and where we deploy it.

Chicken, for starters.

(1) Fun fact: I discovered this recipe by prowling this goldmine of a Food52 Hotline thread where community members shared their favorite recipe they’d cooked in 2016. Delightfully-named Food52er weekend at bearnaise shouted out to Donald Link’s recipe that Kim Severson had originally highlighted in The New York Times, writing, “It was, hands down, one of the best things to ever come out of my kitchen.”

(2) Link's first book Real Cajun made it through three of four rounds of our 2010 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks, including beating the Momofuku cookboook. Daniel Patterson’s review foreshadowed this very Genius Recipe: “Link spends a lot of time talking about the most important (and too often underemphasized) cooking ingredient: salt.”

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Marie Czarnecki
    Marie Czarnecki
  • Carmas
  • Kelly Roberson
    Kelly Roberson
  • Susie Stern
    Susie Stern
  • T
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Marie C. February 25, 2019
Love this chicken recipe, and will make it, but I have to control the salt area, being blood pressure problems. VA takes good care of me in that direction..
Carmas February 21, 2019
Followed the recipe, with few exceptions. I substituted capers for the olives and used predominantly bone-in thighs. Was wow'd by the flavors and continued to enjoy it for two dinners & one lunch. Subsequent days were more & more enjoyable. The parts of the recipes I would revise is braise time & temp; shorter & lower. From a purely "convenience" aspect, I will repeat the recipe with boneless thighs, and add a touch more heat. This is definitely a winter-warmer keeper recipe....Many Thanks!
Kelly R. February 19, 2019
Wondering if anyone has a good swap for the salami? I have a daughter who doesn't eat pork or beef.
Kristen M. February 21, 2019
Hi Kelly—check out the ideas on this Hotline thread: As long as you keep the olives and other flavorful ingredients, you'll probably have something very delicious without the salami, too.
Susie S. February 18, 2019
I love everything about Kristen. She is calm and gives excellent videos, tips and explanations. The chicken dish was a huge hit. I chose thighs over a whole chicken. Cooking time and temperature were too high and long. I reduced both and basted often. Thank you for a lovely recipe. With appreciation 👍🏻
Kristen M. February 21, 2019
Susie, you are too kind :) Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment—I'm so happy you're finding the videos helpful!
T February 17, 2019
What if you don’t like olives? Any substitutions you would suggest?
Keith S. February 17, 2019
As Kristen notes earlier in the piece, you could “slip an anchovy” (or four, minced) in; or maybe a chopped kosher pickle? Whatever ups the briny umami quotient.
Kelly February 17, 2019
Oh good gravy! I made this dish Thursday night and it was fabulous. The only thing I wish I had done differently would have been to use only thighs and legs instead of breasts. This made the most wonderful leftovers the next day.
Karen February 17, 2019
I love the calm way you explain as you go along. This definitely looks a keeper, thanks.
Kristen M. February 21, 2019
Thanks so much for your note, Karen—I'm really glad the videos are helpful to you.
Wulfstan February 16, 2019
I loved the flavor of the sauce. But I wonder if the amount of liquid is right. The breasts were dry, the top a bit burnt, and the sauce—well, there was barely any. Every other braise I’ve made calls for a lid. So maybe covering it would have helped minimize the evaporation? I may have of course made an error when measuring the liquid ingredients. (It did not look like too little liquid when it went into the oven.) But I’m curious if anyone else had similar issues.
Kristen M. February 21, 2019
Hi Wulfstan, I'm sorry to hear it—there's likely some variation depending on how big your chicken (and fennel, onion, etc.) is, as well as the size of your pan. Some others have noted that the cook time was too long and I wonder if their sauce levels were relatively low for those reasons, too. I'll update the recipe to note keeping an eye on the levels and tenderness and pulling it earlier if needed.
Keith S. February 14, 2019
Awesome outcome. Awesome. I used Genoa salami before reading comments; BS breasts and thighs, because I begrudge bones and fat in nearly everything; Kalamata instead of Picholine, because I was shopping in the middle of a workday and could make just one stop; and the result was still a wow. I wondered about pancetta too, but feared it would melt into nothing in the stages of cooking and emulsifying.
Kristen M. February 15, 2019
Carmela February 13, 2019
I am very eager to try this recipe...I am partial to you think it would be OK to use in place of the salami? I am thinking I would brown it a little before adding it to the other ingredients...I look forward to your thoughts on this...thanks!
Kristen M. February 15, 2019
I think that would definitely be tasty, and will just bring a slightly different, mellower flavor.
Shawn C. February 13, 2019
I've olive salad, the kind for muffalata, wonder if that would work. Thoughts or suggestions
Kristen M. February 13, 2019
Sounds like a fun ingredient to play with for salt and flavor, and would likely be quite tasty here—it will just give you a little less control over the flavor and texture of the olives.
Paula February 13, 2019
what kind of salami should I use?
Kristen M. February 13, 2019
Donald Link uses salami from Cochon Butcher (his store in New Orleans) but any hard salami from the grocery store that you like will work. It should be unsliced so you can dice it to the size you want.
Michael F. February 13, 2019
This is a fantastic recipe, and I can confirm that people always love it. And the video is, as always, delightful. But can we talk about that plating at the end? That plate is really simple and lovely. Is it anywhere in the shop?
Kristen M. February 13, 2019
Thanks so much for the kind words, Michael. That plate's from Henry Street Studio, a mother-daughter team whose work we love:
Michael F. February 14, 2019
Thanks, Kristen! They make wonderful pieces. Now we have to convince them to make MORE of them.
Kristen M. February 15, 2019
Yes! It's worth following them on social media and signing up for their newsletter so that you can get the scoop when they're about to sell a whole lot.
Emma L. February 13, 2019
You had me at salami and olives!
Kristen M. February 13, 2019
Seriously. If we were feeling cheeky, we could start calling this "cheese plate chicken." Doesn't seem to be taken!
Robert R. February 13, 2019
Looks great. I bought some dry-cured and oil-cured olives (when I made that great cake). Will those work in this - hold their texture?
Kristen M. February 13, 2019
Funny, Robert, until you mentioned it, I hadn't realized I was plugging olives 2 weeks in a row—I guess I'm in the mood! Are the dry-cured olives you're referring to similar to the oil-cured ones? (Black, wrinkly, not-vinegary, delicious.) If so, I think they'd all taste great here, though the texture will be a little softer than firm green ones, simply because they start out softer.
Debby K. February 13, 2019
I have a question about this recipe - my husband can't eat salami or anything with pork or beef in it due to an allergy. Would there be a good substitute for the salami? Maybe a chicken or turkey sausage?
Kristen M. February 13, 2019
Hi Debby, looks like you got some great answers from the community on the Hotline that I agree with—I'll link here in case anyone else has the same question:
Debby K. February 13, 2019
Thanks, Kristen. It's always a challenge for me to adapt recipes, and the recipe looks so yummy that I was looking forward to trying out a variation! This is definitely on my to-do list now.
Heidi February 13, 2019
Wow! I've never heard of an allergy to pork and also to beef, how unusual! Funny, I was actually wondering if I could change out the chicken, lol. While I'm not actually allergic, I'm trying to avoid the excessive omega 6 from it.
Debby K. February 13, 2019
My husband has an allergy to all mammals - it's associated with bits from the Lone Star tick. It's called an alpha-galactose allergy and is a growing problem. Here's a Wikipedia article on the problem:
Heidi February 13, 2019
Ty for the interesting link, I've never heard of that before! I understand that ticks and their associated diseases have been a huge problem in the NE! I wish your hubby well and he's lucky to have you cooking for him!
Phil C. February 20, 2019
Another option (although it might be a little more difficult to find) might be a vegetarian salami. Although I am not a vegetarian, I have friends who are, and when we make meals to share, I always go that route -- it's fun and tasty.