Edward Lee knows there is a time to work hard building flavor, and there’s a time to step back and let the flavors work hard for you. And when it comes to his recipe for a savory-rich braised chicken inspired by the classic smothered pork chops, it’s very much the latter.
Smothering typically refers to braising meats in gravy, a process that produces tender meat and a rich sauce to ladle over it. It can be a lengthy process, but Lee—who draws on his Korean-American heritage for a novel take on Southern cuisine— cuts that corner by building his braise from ingredients that come to the kitchen already loaded with savory flavor. Chief among them: bourbon whiskey, dark miso, soy sauce and shiitake mushrooms.
“Most of good cooking is to identify great ingredients and pair them together,” Lee says. “To me, the miso and bourbon producers did most of the work for you. They spent years creating a rich, complex product. All you have to do is find a way to combine them, and you get to reap the benefits.”
Bourbon, miso and naturally fermented soy sauces get their complexity and intense depth of flavor in part from long aging. Lee’s recipe for smothered chicken—from his cookbook, “Smoke and Pickles”—takes advantage of that to create an umami-loaded braise that tastes like a long, slow simmer, but actually cooks in less than an hour.
Not surprisingly, the success of the recipe relies on balancing those flavors. And the bourbon plays a key role in that. “Bourbon is a wonderful ingredient to add when you want a smoky, aged sweetness with a bit of leathery caramel flavor,” Lee says.
Bourbon has a natural sweetness thanks to being distilled from at least 51 percent corn. In addition, the barrel-aging process adds subtle vanilla notes. That combination, along with a small amount of orange juice, is key to balancing the saltiness of the miso and soy sauce without adding cloying sugary flavors.
As for the miso, Lee favors darker, stronger misos (such as red) over lighter varieties, as their more robust flavors deepen as they cook.
By using such bold ingredients from the outset, the chicken needs only about a half hour of simmering to cook the meat and let the flavors meld. The result: a rich, velvety umami-packed chicken that offers the savory flavors of a long braise in a fraction of the time.