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Dutch oven is key to super-tender braised chicken

Braising and Dutch ovens go hand in hand.

A Dutch oven, said by some researchers to have been named for the Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania who used similar pots, is a large kettle-type vessel that has a tight-fitting lid. The heavy lid prevents steam from escaping, keeping the moisture in. It's used for slow, moist cooking methods -- such as braising -- so the end result is a super-tender piece of meat.

To braise means to brown on all sides in a small amount of fat. The meat is then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid for as long as several hours. A Dutch oven keeps the moisture in, allowing the meat to cook in its own juices. To make sure no steam escapes or liquid evaporates, you can cover the pot with foil and then place the lid on top so it's sealed well.

A Dutch oven is ideal for many cooking methods, because it can be easily transferred from the stovetop to the oven. The cookware usually is made of a heavy cast iron and often has an enameled finish.

On the high end, the round 3 12-quart Le Creuset white cast-iron French oven in Sur La Table's early spring catalog is $174.95. A red enameled cast-iron 5.5-quart chili pot from the Martha Stewart collection is $100 at www.macys.com; the sale price recently was $55. Even less-expensive versions are available; you can get a Lodge cast-iron covered Dutch oven for $29.99 at Target.

Braised Paprika Chicken

This dish gets its intense flavors from a sweet Spanish paprika and crushed red pepper.

This recipe is From Eating Well magazine.

Prep time: 35 minutes.

Total time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

If you are using a combination of chicken pieces, cut the breasts in half crosswise to make smaller pieces and separate the thighs and drumsticks. With the pieces the same size, they'll cook evenly.

Note: Once the chicken is cooked, you can cool the mixture and refrigerate it for as long as 1 day. When ready to serve, remove the chicken from the mixture and prepare the sour cream as above for the sauce. Follow the remaining instructions, allowing more time to heat the chicken through.

• 3 to 3 12 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (thighs, drumsticks, breasts), skin removed, trimmed

14 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

12 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

• 2 tablespoons canola oil

• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

• 4 cups finely diced onions

• Pinch of sugar

• 1 cup diced red bell pepper

12 cup diced green bell pepper

• 2 tablespoons tomato paste

• 2 tablespoons sweet paprika

• 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

• 1 teaspoon dried marjoram

• 1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

12 cup reduced-fat sour cream

• 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

• 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley, dill and chives

Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with 18 teaspoon salt and the black pepper.

In a large, heavy casserole dish or Dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sprinkle with sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft and light brown, for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in the bell peppers, tomato paste, paprika and crushed red pepper. Add the chicken, and stir it gently into the onion mixture. Sprinkle with the marjoram and add the broth. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and simmer over medium-low heat until the chicken is very tender, for about 50 minutes.

Just before the chicken is done, in a small bowl whisk the sour cream, flour and 18 teaspoon salt until smooth.

When the chicken is done, remove it to a plate. Stir the sour cream mixture into the sauce; return to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sauce coats the spoon. Reduce the heat to low, return the chicken to the sauce and reheat, for about 1 minute. Serve garnished with parsley, dill and chives, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 338 calories (44 percent from fat), 17 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 98 milligrams cholesterol, 31 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 316 milligrams sodium.

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