Cook the Book: Bay-Scented Chicken with Figs

Cook the Book: Bay-Scented Chicken with Figs

[Photograph: Caroline Russock]

Although this Bay-Scented Chicken with Figs from Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian was made in my New York kitchen, the ingredients had California written all over them. If I was living in Southern California I would have access to ripe figs and fresh bay leaves, but since it's not quite season yet on the East Coast, their dried counterparts had to make do.

But even with dried figs and bay leaves, this recipe was a winner. The chicken is browned and then left to simmer with softly cooked onions, white wine, chicken stock, figs, prunes, olives, bay leaves, thyme, and just the slightest hint of cumin. It's one of those incredible sweet-savory dishes that gets the balance just right—not too heavy on either flavor, just an intriguing combination that doesn't look quite right on paper but works like magic on the plate.

The figs and prunes soften and break down slightly while cooking, giving the sauce a beautifully rich fruity quality. And of course, this is a recipe that's just as much about the sauce as it is the chicken, so make sure to have plenty of rice or crusty bread around for soaking and sopping.

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  • Yield:4


  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 chicken legs or 1 chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds) cut into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 6 fresh figs or 8 dried figs, cut into quarters
  • 8 pitted prunes, cut into quarters, optional
  • 1/2 cup drained green olives, pitted and halved, or 1/4 cup drained and rinsed capers, optional
  • 5 fresh bay leaves, or 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (tied together with kitchen twine) or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme


  1. 1.

    Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper evenly over the chicken pieces. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces skin-side down and cook until the skin is deeply browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn over each piece and brown the other side for about 2 minutes more. Remove the chicken to a platter.

  2. 2.

    Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the wine and cook, stirring, until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and cook, stirring, until smooth. Add the figs, the prunes, and/or olives, if using either or both, the bay leaves, thyme, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and stir to combine. Add the chicken pieces and any juices in a single layer.

  3. 3.

    Bring the sauce to a boil, cover the pan, reduce the heat, and simmer until the chicken is tender and no longer pink inside, 40 to 45 minutes.

  4. 4.

    Remove the chicken from the pan. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs from the sauce with tongs and discard. Stir the sauce well, and press down a bit on some of the figs and prunes to release some of their flavors into the sauce. Pour the sauce onto a shallow platter and place the chicken on top. Spoon some of the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.