This Israeli Chicken Sofrito is inspired by a Sephardic family recipe from my sister-in-law. The term sofrito comes from the Spanish sofreir meaning “to fry lightly.” In Sephardic cuisine the name typically refers to a stew made from meat or poultry that is braised and cooked over low heat until only a small amount of liquid remains. The slow cooking process results in a very tender meat. This version of the dish likely earned the name sofrito because the majority of the ingredients are fried in oil before they are cooked. In Spanish and Italian cuisine, sofrito is a combination of aromatics that are often fried and used in a variety of savory dishes. The Italian version is made with parsley, onion, garlic and tomato lightly cooked in olive oil, while the Spanish version calls for paprika. The common thread between all versions of sofrito seems to be the oil.
My sister-in-law’s version of this dish includes chicken consomme powder, a pareve powder that adds more savory chicken flavor to the dish. I love the flavor of chicken powder, but it’s loaded with sodium and many brands also contain MSG (the kind she uses is MSG-free, but it’s salty). I challenged myself to capture that ultra-savory flavor in a natural way without the use of chicken powder in order to cut down on the sodium. After experimenting, I found that once again the secret was in the schmaltz. By frying the chicken in olive oil and reserving the resulting chicken fat (schmaltz) at the bottom of the pot, I was able to fry the potatoes and onions in it, infusing them with all kinds of savory goodness. Using chicken broth for the braising liquid instead of water also helped to pump up the savory flavor.
This recipe takes a bit of prep work, but once it’s all in the pot you can rest easy… the cooking will take care of itself. It’s perfect as a Shabbat dinner or a Sunday supper. My favorite part of this dish is the addition of an orange yam/sweet potato and lightly caramelized onions, two sweet flavors which compliment the spices and add depth to this ultra-savory dish. My stepdaughter adores the browned potatoes, which soak up the spiced chicken broth at the end of cooking. This is serious comfort food, a one-pot meal that satisfies. Do you have your own version of sofrito?
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- 8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 2 medium yellow onions, sliced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1 3/4 tsp paprika
- 1 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 3 bay leaves
You will also need
- 6 qt. Dutch oven or heavy pot with lid, slotted spatula
- Prepare the chicken thighs by sprinkling them with salt (lightly if it’s kosher chicken), then generously with black pepper.
- In a heavy pot with a lid (I prefer an enameled Dutch oven), heat olive oil over medium high heat till hot but not smoking. Oil should coat the entire bottom of the pot. Place 4 of the chicken thighs into the pan, skin side down, and cook undisturbed for about 7-8 minutes till the skin is dark golden brown (careful, it may splatter a bit!). Do not move the chicken during the initial cooking process; the skin will initially stick to the bottom of the pot, then will loosen as it browns. If the oil begins to smoke a lot, lower the heat a bit and continue to cook. When the skin is brown and crispy, turn and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes till brown.
- Remove chicken from pan with a slotted spatula and set aside. Repeat instructions for the remaining 4 pieces of chicken. Remove chicken from pan and reserve.
- You should now have plenty of cooking oil/schmaltz in the bottom of your pot. Fry the potato chunks for about 8 minutes, stirring gently 2-3 times during cooking, till potatoes are browned and crisp on the outside. You may need to do this in batches to ensure that the pot is not crowded for even browning. They should be semi-cooked and golden, but not overly soft. Raise heat if needed to make sure they brown evenly on all sides. Remove potatoes from the pot with a slotted spatula and reserve.
- Add sliced onions and ¼ tsp of salt to the oil, stir to coat. Cover the pot and reduce heat to medium. Let the onions cook covered for about 10 minutes.
- While the onions are cooking covered in the pot, whisk together the chicken stock, paprika, turmeric, garlic powder and bay leaves to create your cooking liquid. Set aside.
- Uncover the pot and continue to cook the onions over medium high heat, continuing to stir till the onions soften and begin to caramelize. Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot as you stir. The longer you cook the onions, the more they will caramelize.
- At this point, you can drain off the excess fat and schmaltz if you wish to cut calories, or you can keep it in the dish to add flavor.
- Add chicken and cooking liquid to the pot with the onions and bring to a simmer.
- Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for about 60 minutes till the chicken is very tender (you can cook it even longer for a more tender result if you wish). Add the browned potatoes back to the pot and toss to coat with sauce. Raise heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes or until cooking liquid has reduced and potatoes are tender and soak up some of the cooking liquid. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve sofrito and sauce on a platter in the center of the table. Enjoy!