Baja-Braised Chicken and Rice with Cabbage and Cilantro Slaw
Updated: Mar 26
It's time to reveal the deepest, darkest secret of Back Pocket Provisions: this whole time, we've just been tricking you into drinking locally-grown vegetables. That's what makes our products taste different than any "cocktail mixer" you've ever tried - local tomatoes and other fresh ingredients.
So now you know... you actually like tomato juice. You just want it to be a little less like this:
... And a little more like this:
We get it. We feel the same way. Now that we're all spending more time at home and in the kitchen, we thought we'd also share some of our favorite ways to enjoy Back Pocket products not as cocktail mixers, but as ingredients in delicious meals.
(Still with me? If you came for the cocktails, no hard feelings - we've got plenty of those recipes, too.)
In this recipe for Baja-Braised Chicken and Rice with Red Cabbage and Cilantro Slaw, we're going to braise a pair of local chicken legs in a mix of Bloody Baja and sauteed vegetables. Then we're going to remove the chicken to rest, add rice, and turn that braising liquid into a rich rice dish that might just steal the show. We're going to serve it with a red cabbage, tomato, and cilantro slaw that's brightened up with white vinegar and orange juice.
Here's our cast of characters, starring a gorgeous pair of legs from Peterson Family Farm in Prince George, VA:
You'll need a dutch oven, or a deep frying pan with lid. And first things first: wash your hands. Please. Twenty seconds at least, people.
1) Make the slaw.
I like to start with the slaw, then set it aside so the flavors have time to marry. To get your cabbage going, begin by peeling away and discarding a few of the tougher outer leaves. Next, cut it into quarters through the base. Finally, cut the core out of each quarter - that's the tough, Washington-Monument-shaped situation that points from the base towards the center - and discard. Pick your two favorite quarters and slice them short-ways to make thin strips. Toss the other two quarters in a plastic bag and store in your fridge for another recipe.
Put the cabbage in a large mixing bowl. Add a 1/4 cup of mayonnaise (oh, get over it, it's delicious), a 1/4 cup of fresh orange juice, and 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. If you don't have fresh oranges, you can use lime, lemon, or any combination -- just hold off on the vinegar for a second. Add two good, three-finger pinches of salt.
Fold the ingredients together until well combined. Give it a taste. If the mayo is a bit too apparent, add vinegar a splash at a time to balance (if you used lemon juice, you may not need much). Fold in 1 ripe tomato, cored and chopped, and 1 bunch of finely-chopped cilantro. Set the slaw aside to allow the flavors to meld.
3) Prepare the ingredients for your braise.
If I'm being honest, this might be my favorite part of making a braise: the zen-state of veggie prep. Time to turn off the inner monologue and focus on task completion. Peel and chop one onion. Wash and chop four ribs of celery. Wash and chop two bell peppers. Wash and chop two carrots (you could peel them instead, I guess, but I don't).
Tell me that's not fulfilling. Also, how about those gorgeous purple heirloom carrots from Van Dessel Farms in Parksley, VA?
3) Sear and braise the chicken.
The great thing about braising is that it transforms tougher cuts of meat into tender deliciousness while keeping them from drying out. And with a good, deep sear, you can also get the perfect texture: crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside.
Pat your chicken legs dry and season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a dutch oven or a deep frying pan over medium-high heat until just starting to smoke (or just before it starts to smoke, if you possess that superpower).
Place the two chicken legs in the pan, skin side down, making sure that they're not touching. Leave them alone. Don't move them. Don't poke them. Don't do a super-quick-check to see if they're burning. They're not. Trust. Leave them for four full minutes, then flip them over and cook on the other side for an additional four. Use this time to revel in your gorgeous, crisp, dark-brown sear.
When you've seared both sides, carefully remove the chicken from the pan and put them aside. This is the moment that I tell you to "empty the fat from the pan, reserving about a tablespoon." Don't do that. You leave that delicious chicken fat in the pan where it belongs. Life is for the living.
Add the braising vegetables to the hot pan, stirring as you do, and reduce the heat to medium. Saute for five to ten minutes, stirring every couple of minutes, until the carrots are pleasantly soft and the onions are beginning to color. Deglaze by pouring in two cups of Bloody Baja (or a mixture of Baja and water, if you're a little short) and stirring to incorporate all of the tasty brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. That's called "fond," in case you want to impress someone, but "tasty brown bits" always gets me there.
Let the mixture come back up to a low boil, then nest the chicken legs back into the pan. The braising liquid should come much of the way up the side of the chicken, but not submerge it. Too little liquid? Add some extra Baja, water, or stock. Too much liquid? You could ladle some out and discard it, but I'd proceed and just let my dinner be a little extra soupy.
Put the lid on the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low, just enough to keep it simmering. Braise the chicken, covered, for thirty minutes. If you need to peek after five minutes or so just to make sure it's simmering, go for it.
4) Add rice; plate and serve.
When the chicken is done braising, remove the lid and (carefully!) lift the legs out of the pan. Transfer them to a plate and tent with foil to allow them to rest. Turn the heat back up to medium and stir a cup of rice into the braising liquid. Once it's back to a boil, it's the same drill: lid goes on the pan, heat goes down to medium-low, and simmer for another twenty minutes.
(The plan is always for me to use this time to clean the kitchen and put away the dishes so only the cooking pan remains. How impressed my wife will be! However, I often find that this is also an excellent time to drink a bottle of wine and listen to a podcast.)
After twenty minutes, turn off the heat, remove the lid, and give the rice a good stir to fluff everything up. Taste and adjust with salt or a splash of vinegar, if necessary, to balance. Once the rice is where you want it, return to your slaw. Give that a good stir, try it, and make the same adjustments to taste.
Build your plate with equal parts rice and slaw. You can serve the chicken legs whole, but I think they look better split into a drumstick and a thigh (and yeah, sure, sliced chive to garnish):
And you're in business. Particularly nice with a chilled glass of... hey, where'd that bottle of wine go?
Baja-Braised Chicken and Rice with Red Cabbage and Cilantro Slaw
Chicken serves two, but with plenty of leftover rice and slaw
1/2 red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime, or a combo)
2 tablespoons white vinegar, plus more to taste
2 three-finger pinches of salt, plus more to taste
1 ripe tomato, cored and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 chicken legs
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 cups Bloody Baja
1 cup white rice
Combine cabbage, mayo, orange juice, vinegar, and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Adjust with additional salt and vinegar as needed. Fold in tomato and cilantro. Set aside.
In a dutch oven or deep frying pan, sear chicken legs skin-side down over medium-high heat for 4 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side for an additional 4 minutes until both sides are deeply browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Add the onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Saute until carrots begin to soften. Deglaze with Bloody Baja and bring the mixture to a boil. Return chicken legs to the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and braise, tightly covered, for 30 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pan, tent with foil, and set aside to rest. Stir rice into braising pan, return to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook rice for 20 minutes.
Remove pan from heat. Fluff the rice and add salt and vinegar to taste. Mix up the cabbage slaw and adjust to taste, as well. Split chicken legs into drumsticks and thighs and serve with rice and slaw.