LOS ANGELES - The Santa Monica farmers market was one of my first destinations after moving to L.A. a few months ago; I went to feel some connectivity to my new home after weeks of moving limbo. There, stacked as high as my face on every stand's tables, were piles and piles of spring onions. Their newness and my own fresh start in Los Angeles inspired the first recipe for this, my first "Home for Dinner" column.
This column will take a familiar concept and give it a spin that looks at ingredients in a new light. While I strive for ease - who doesn't? - I don't sacrifice flavor for expedience. My mission is to create recipes that inspire you to get in the kitchen and enjoy every chopping, stirring and tong-flipping minute of it, whether that's 15 minutes or an hour and a half.
During those first weeks here, though, my patience and makeshift kitchen required the former. Armed with one skillet and a cheap drugstore blender, I turned to one of my favorite quick suppers: braised chicken thighs, where I let the oven take over for me after just 15 minutes of hands-on cooking.
Almost any sauce can work for the braising liquid with this technique, but, inspired by the Mexican influences here and the piles of spring onions at the market, I devised this: a spring onion salsa verde, the onion's mild sharpness mimicking the acidity of the traditional tomatillos in salsa verde.
While the chicken skin renders to a golden brown crisp, I quickly blitz the raw salsa ingredients in a blender, adding some white wine for extra tartness. Then, flip the chicken, pour in the salsa, and chuck the skillet into the oven to work its magic in solitude until the salsa is concentrated and infused into the meat. It's the perfect amount of time to hack into an avocado, wedge up a lime and toast some bread (or heat up tortillas or make rice) to help shovel the dish down.
A handful of sliced spring onions gets showered over the whole dish to add a pop of raw crunch. Their presence reassures me - like those piles at the farmers market - that even in the anxiety of settling into a new city, a home-cooked meal is the most grounding thing there is.
CHICKEN THIGHS BRAISED IN SPRING ONION SALSA VERDE
50 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
Spring onions are available not just at farmers markets, but in regular grocery stores from late February through May. If you can't find them, or want to make the dish when they're not in season, everyday scallions make a great substitute; just use the recommended weight since scallions will be much smaller than the onions. And though it may seem like an extra step, you need to slice the spring onions before blending them with the rest of the salsa ingredients - both to give you some sliced pieces for garnish and to make a smooth sauce. If you toss them in whole, their often-slimy inner membranes won't break down completely and will make the salsa unappetizingly chunky.
8 ounces spring onions (about 3), baby leeks (about 6) or scallions (about 20)
½ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and soft stems
½ cup white wine
Kosher salt and freshly
ground black pepper
2 almond-size garlic cloves
1 serrano chile, seeds removed (or leave them if you want a spicier sauce)
4 (6- to 8-ounce) bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
¼ cup crumbled queso fresco or cotija
Sliced avocado, lime wedges, and bread, tortillas or rice, for serving
1. Make the spring onion salsa verde: Rinse and dry the spring onions. Peel off any dried or brown outer layers from the white parts, then trim off only the dried, woody tips from the greens. Thinly slice the white and green parts from the onions and reserve a small handful of each in a bowl for garnishing the finished dish.
2. Place the rest of the sliced spring onions into a blender or food processor, along with the cilantro, wine, three-quarters teaspoon salt, a half teaspoon pepper, the garlic and serrano and blend until very smooth, about 30 seconds.
3. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
4. Season the chicken thighs all over with salt and pepper. Place the thighs, skin side down, in a large ovenproof skillet just wide enough to fit them in a single layer, then place the skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skins start sizzling, continue cooking the thighs, undisturbed, until well-browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip the thighs, skin side up, onto a plate and pour off the fat in the skillet (or save for another use). Pour the spring onion salsa verde into the pan and bring the salsa to a boil. Return the thighs to the skillet, skin side up, then place in the oven and braise until the chicken is cooked through, the skin is crisp and the salsa is slightly reduced, about 25 minutes.
5. Remove the skillet from the oven and sprinkle the chicken and salsa with the queso fresco and the reserved spring onions. Serve with avocado and lime wedges and with bread, tortillas or rice.