The chicken turns out succulent and tender, and it's nestled into a bed of rich, aromatic onions, spiked with tangy mustard. There is more than enough sauce to smother the chicken, and you could even eat it separately as a very rich soup.
It pretty much goes without saying that this dish makes fantastic lunch leftovers, too. It would also freeze magnificently.
Braised French Onion Chicken with Gruyère
serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds onions, sliced into thin half-moons
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 small sprigs thyme, leaves only
4-inch sprig rosemary
2 cups chicken broth, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, finely grated or shaved (about 1 cup)
Melt the butter in a deep 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted completely and foams up, add the onions. They will fill the pan to the top, at this point. Stir as you add the onions to coat them in the butter. Sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper. Cook the onions for about 40 minutes over low or medium heat, stirring occasionally.
When the onions have developed an evenly light beige color throughout, add the garlic, thyme leaves, and whole rosemary sprig, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring frequently. Turn the heat up to high and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring frequently. You want dark, slightly burnt spots to appear on the onions, and for them to develop a rich mahogany color. When the onions get quite dark, add 1 cup of the beef or chicken broth. Add it slowly, stirring and scraping the pan vigorously to scrape up any burnt or stuck-on bits. When the liquid has been added, bring it back up to a simmer and simmer lightly for 5 minutes, or until it is somewhat reduced.
Take the onions off the heat and pour them into a 3-quart oven-safe dish with a lid. (If you don't have a Dutch oven or another oven-safe dish with a lid, you can use a 9x13-inch baking dish. Just cover it tightly with a double layer of foil.)
Heat the oven to 325°F.
While the onions are cooking, brown the chicken. Heat another 10-inch or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry and season lightly with kosher salt and black pepper. When the skillet is hot, add the thighs and brown for about 3 minutes on each side, 6 minutes total. When they've developed a golden-brown crust, remove from the pan and set on top of the caramelized onions in the baking dish.
Add the remaining 1 cup broth to the pan. Stir vigorously, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until reduced by half. Pour this sauce over the chicken and onions, and put the lid on the baking dish. The chicken and onions will look quite saucy; there will be plenty of liquid in the baking dish.
(At this point you can refrigerate the dish for up to 48 hours. Let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before baking, or else add about 5 minutes to the bake time.)
Bake at 325°F for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and turn the heat up to broil. Take the lid off the baking dish, and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top of the chicken. When the broiler has heated up, return the dish to the oven and broil for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden on top.