Why It Works
- Bright and fruity ají amarillo paste brings both heat and acidity to this rich braise.
- Slightly sweet and fatty coconut milk balances the chili's heat.
- Searing the chicken on the stove first gives you crispy skin, while finishing in the oven makes the thighs fall-apart tender.
- Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs offer up more flavor to the dish.
A couple of special ingredients can be all you need to transform a simple one-pot meal into a complex and flavorful dish. This braised chicken utilizes two distinctive pantry items: ají amarillo paste and canned coconut milk. Ají amarillo is a bright orange chili native to Peru that tastes as radiant as it looks. It's round and full in aroma, with hints of tropical fruit. Coconut milk balances the chili's heat, adding richness and a mellow sweetness to the dish.
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) coconut oil or any neutral-flavored oil
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 30 ounces; 800g)
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1/2 large yellow onion (7 ounces; 200g), sliced
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (13.6-ounce; 400ml) can coconut milk
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 to 120ml) ají amarillo paste (see note)
- 1/2 small butternut squash (1 1/4 pounds; 600g), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch-thick slices
- 3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas (3 1/2 ounces; 100g)
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems (1 ounce; 30g), roughly chopped
- Cooked rice or boiled yuca, for serving
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and adjust rack to lower-middle position. Add coconut oil to a 6-quart Dutch oven or similar heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot and heat over medium-high heat until oil shimmers. Season chicken thighs with salt and sear, skin side down, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Flip chicken and sear on other side until browned, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside. Drain any excess fat from pot and lower heat to medium.
Add sliced onion and minced garlic to pot and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the chicken, until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes.
Increase heat to high, then add coconut milk, ají amarillo, and squash and bring to a simmer. Season with salt. Return chicken to pot along with any accumulated juices, resting it skin side up on top of squash so that skin remains above the surface of the liquid.
Transfer pot to oven and bake, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through and squash is tender, about 45 minutes.
Remove from oven and stir in peas and cilantro. Serve right away with rice or boiled yuca.
Ají amarillo can be found in Peruvian and Mexican grocery stores, as well as online. Adjust the amount of chili paste in this dish based on your taste, keeping in mind that the heat will mellow out after cooking. If you cannot find ají amarillo, any other chili paste will also work well.