Each year when late spring rolls around, I pack up my heavy winter clothes, and replace them with warm weather gear.The same type of seasonal exchange happens in my kitchen. The minute the thermometer starts to climb, I put away recipes for robust dishes and turn to lighter fare.
After a short heat wave, this week began with cooler days, and made me start thinking of heartier cooking. I knew right where to look for inspiration and pulled out my Sunday Casseroles, a book (published last fall) of warming, all-in-one dishes. Within minutes I spotted a perfect main course for early fall — Cornmeal-Coated Chicken with Ancho Chiles, Beans, and Corn.
A rustic, earthy dish, it is prepared with cornmeal-dusted chicken thighs that are sautéed and combined with corn and black beans. A flavorful tomato mixture scented with mild, fruity ancho chilies (deep rust-hued dried poblanos), and seasonings of oregano and cumin give this casserole an extra depth of flavor. This mélange, baked in a large skillet until the chicken is tender and the tomato sauce thickened, is served straight from the pan. Add a salad of shredded romaine and sliced avocados dressed in lime juice and olive oil and a bowl of apples and some cookies, and you too will be ready for cooling autumn days!
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Cornmeal-Coated Chicken with Ancho Chiles, Beans, and Corn
2 ancho chiles (about 3/4oz total; see Market Note)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
6 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 lb total), trimmed of excess fat and dangling skin
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
One 28-oz can diced tomatoes, with their juices
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp dried oregano
One 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)
Crushed tortilla chips
Grated sharp white cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro
1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°.
2. Put the chiles in a small bowl and cover with 3/4 cup boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes, or until the chiles are soft. Drain well. Then, wearing rubber gloves, slit the chiles and scrape out and discard the seeds. Coarsely chop the chiles, measure 2 tbsp, and set aside. (Save any extra for another use.)
3. Combine 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, and 1/2 tsp of the cumin in a small bowl. Pat the chicken dry and season on both sides with this mixture. Spread the flour on a dinner plate and the cornmeal on another. Whisk the eggs in a shallow bowl to blend well. Dredge each thigh in flour, then dip in the eggs, and finally dredge in the cornmeal.
4. Heat the vegetable oil in large, heavy, ovenproof frying pan over medium heat until very hot. Add the thighs to the pan in a single layer, in batches if necessary. (The oil should be hot enough that it sizzles when the chicken is added.) Sauté the thighs until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate, and pour off any remaining oil in the pan.
5. To the same frying pan, add the chicken broth, tomatoes, garlic, oregano, remaining 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp salt, and the reserved 2 tbsp chopped ancho chiles. Stir in the black beans and corn and bring the mixture to a simmer. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Return the chicken to the frying pan, and then carefully transfer to the oven.
6. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook until the thighs are very tender when pierced with a sharp knife and most of the liquids have evaporated, 30 to 40 minutes more. The cornmeal coating will not be as crispy as it was right after sautéing but the flavor will meld well with the sauce. (The casserole can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat in a preheated 350°F oven until hot, 30 to 40 minutes.)
7. Serve the chicken and vegetables straight from the frying pan, accompanied by bowls of crushed tortilla chips, grated cheese, lime wedges, and chopped cilantro.
Ancho chiles (dried poblanos) are available at many grocery stores (sometimes in the produce area), and in specialty food shops.
Adapted from Sunday Casseroles by Betty Rosbottom (Chronicle Books 2014)