I recently remembered a children’s book that was already ancient when I was a child. "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins," written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss, was first published in 1938. It tells the story of a boy who removes his hat as the king passes (as the law says he should), but a new one magically appears in its place. This happens again and again, until the boy is eventually threatened with death if he fails to bare his head.
What got me thinking of young Cubbins’s troubles was a giant bag of Brussels sprouts in our fridge. We try very hard not to waste food, especially fresh produce. But it seemed the more sprouts we took from the bag for various meals, the more there were. To their credit, while they didn’t seem to be diminishing in quantity, they also weren’t going bad. That’s a great thing about most winter vegetables. They reliably last when you need them most.
But back to the book for a moment. I remember my grade school teacher reading "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins" to the class – I don’t remember the teacher, but the book itself. It made me unbelievably anxious as the king and his guards chased Bartholomew up the tower’s winding stone staircase, while he shed hat after hat. And after the “happy” outcome (spoiler alert: the final hats become more and more beautiful, the last being so magnificently bejeweled that the king “accepts” it as a gift and spares the boy), I just got irate. Because the same teacher who had read us this troublesome book had also told us about George Washington. And Abraham Lincoln.
What gave the king the right to take someone’s life for something as minor as not removing his hat? And why did the king seem to be ready to act on that right? No wonder we’d kicked out King George. The Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Emperor’s New Clothes" infuriated me for pretty much the same reasons. I would have made a terrible peasant back in feudal times.
You’re probably more interested in the Brussels sprouts, though. Specifically, cooked with chicken thighs and potatoes. This is a great winter dish on several levels. It’s satisfyingly hearty, a meat and potatoes (and sprouts) dish that uses the juiciest chicken cut, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. It uses two winter vegetables, Brussels sprouts and potatoes (yes, potatoes are available all year long, but because they store so well in cold, they historically saw lots of action in winter). And you turn on the oven to make this dish, warming the kitchen nicely.
Braised chicken thighs with Brussels sprouts and potatoes is flavored by another winter treat, orange zest, giving it a subtle bright citrusy note. You’ll taste it in the chicken, but it particularly livens up and brightens up the Brussels sprouts. For this version, I used dried minced orange peel. You can add it to savory dishes, sweets and even to tea while it’s brewing. In the Kitchen Notes, you’ll find our source for dried minced orange peel as well as some substitutes.
I ended up making this dish twice. Yeah, we liked it that much. And it also helped us use up the last of the Brussels sprouts.
(See recipe next page)
Braised Chicken Thighs with Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes
Serves 4 (see Kitchen Notes)
4 good-sized, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried tarragon, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more, as needed)
4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, about 1 pound, peeled and cut into wedges (see Kitchen Notes)
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried minced orange peel (see Kitchen Notes for substitutes)
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine]
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Trim excess fat from chicken thighs and season them on both sides with salt, pepper and half the tarragon. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, lidded, oven-safe sauté pan or skillet over medium-high flame. Add chicken skin side down and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, turn chicken and brown on other side for 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate.
3. You’ll probably have a fair amount of oil in the pan at this point. Don’t drain it, though. Add potato wedges and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, turning occasionally. Add Brussels sprouts to pan and toss to coat with oil. You may need to drizzle in some more oil – the potatoes and sprouts like to soak it up. Cook for another 5 minutes, turning potatoes and sprouts occasionally. The pan will be quite crowded, but you want to make sure the potato wedges brown and that, as much as possible, the cut sides of the sprouts spend some time face down in the pan. Some will brown, some won’t. No biggie.
4. When most of potatoes have a bit of color, create a hole in the center of the pan and drizzle in a little more oil, if needed. Add onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, 3 minutes or so. Gently toss to combine everything and make another hole in the center. Add garlic, orange peel and remaining tarragon and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add broth and wine and stir everything together, scraping up any browned bits.
5. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Nestle chicken thighs into the sprouts and potatoes and add any accumulated juices from the plate. Cover pan and transfer to oven. Braise until potatoes are cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
Transfer chicken to a plate. Taste sprouts and potatoes mixture and adjust seasonings. Divide among 4 shallow bowls and top each with a chicken thigh. Serve.
More chicken? With the heartiness of the Brussels sprouts and potatoes, one chicken thigh should be plenty per serving. If you’d like a meatier version, add 4 drumsticks and cook as described above. At the end, each bowl gets two pieces of chicken.
No small potatoes? Just use 1 pound of potatoes, whatever their size, and cut into good-sized chunks. You can also use fingerling potatoes, unpeeled and sliced in half lengthwise, or baby Yukons, unpeeled and quartered. Just be sure to scrub the skins under running water if you’re not peeling the potatoes.
No dried minced orange peel? We really like this dried seasoning for adding some citrusy brightness to dishes. We find ours at The Spice House. You can substitute twice or three times the amount of fresh orange zest. Another option is to peel a large orange into long, broad strips, using a vegetable peeler. Try to get as little of the bitter white pith as possible, getting mostly the orange outer skin. Flex the strips to release the oils in the skin and add them to the pan when you’ve added the broth and wine. Push them down into the liquid with a wooden spoon. When the dish is done, discard the strips of orange peel.