When you’re thinking about what to make for dinner, the question is often “What do I feel like cooking?” But it can also be “How do I feel like cooking it?”
Sometimes, you want to towel-dry, salt-scrub and bronze each piece of chicken, relishing the sizzle, before adding liquid. Other times, you’d rather take it easy, skip the browning altogether and pile everything into a pot, then let it simmer, steaming your face over it as it bubbles.
Skipping browning isn’t a shortcut, but is instead another path to delicious results. Think about chicken soup: Because the chicken isn’t browned, it’s spoon-tender with a delicate flavor. The same goes for chicken mafe, chicken tinga, khao man gai and so many other classic dishes. When lean chicken is seared over intense, dry heat, its juices can evaporate and render the meat dry. So while a golden chicken may be beautiful and complex, pale chicken is juicy with straight-up chicken flavor. It’s uncomplicated, in a good way.
Whether or not to skip browning depends on the cut of chicken and the accompanying ingredients. Bone-in, skin-on chicken is an excellent candidate: The fat, cartilage and bones are flavorful enough to turn water into stock. Boneless, skinless chicken will result in meat that’s moist, but in need of some flavor. A simmer in chicken stock or feisty ingredients can help, as in this recipe for quick-braised chicken and greens. Braising boneless thighs and dark leafy greens in stock makes the dish cozy, but the pickled peppers add sweet-and-sour personality.
Even ground meat doesn’t always need browning. In many meatball soups, like canh and sopa de albóndigas, you can plunk the meatballs right into the broth, where they cook gently and end up pillowy. (If you’re worried about the meatballs breaking, refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes to firm before cooking.)
Opting not to sear is also practical: No splatters on your stove, counters and self. No flipping or fighting stuck-on bits. The heat is lower, yet the cooking isn’t slower. The cooking experience is gentler and the meat is more tender. It’s chicken in a pot, as kind as can be.