Recipe: Lemon Braised Chicken & Beans with Mint Pesto

Recipe: Lemon Braised Chicken & Beans with Mint Pesto

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Faith Durand
Apr 24, 2018
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

What is warm-weather cooking, to you? For me, it means keeping things as simple as possible. In the spring and summertime I want meals that come together in one big pot — easy to cook and easy to reheat later. I want meals that taste like the garden, fragrant with herbs and bright flavors. I want hands-off meals, so I can retire to the back porch with a cucumber gimlet while my supper cooks.

Well, this braised chicken dish fits all those requirements beautifully.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

It's a simple dish — it needs just a few ingredients and one big pot. White beans and chicken cook together in the oven with shavings of lemon, which infuses them both with a bright lemon scent. At the end I stir in handfuls of chopped dill and add a swirl of mint pesto — garlicky and minty.

The Many Varieties of Small White Beans

While the recipe calls for small white beans, there are a few that are common on shelves. We recommend navy, as they seem to be the most easy to find, but flageolet or Great Northern are two other varieties you may come across.

What are the differences? They all deliver mild flavor and creamy texture, so it's really just a matter of size. Flageolet are the smallest, followed by navy, and then Great Northern. All three will work well here — just know that since Great Northern are the largest of the three, they may absorb a little more water, so you might have to add a bit more while they cook to get things brothy.

This one-pot meal can be made on the stove or in the slow cooker. Either way, it will yield you herbed, creamy beans and tender chicken, with that garden-fresh taste of mint and garlic at the end.

Tester's Notes

To me, this stew feels like a celebration of spring. The herbs and lemon ensure the dish is super bright and fresh, yet it's warm and brothy and filled with creamy white beans, which satisfies the comfort we all still crave on the cooler days of the season. The mix of dill, thyme, and mint is a new combination to me and one I've now fallen in love with — the zesty dill and mint are nice contrasts to the earthy thyme.

I also love that Faith has already done the work to provide you with slow cooker instructions, so that if you don't happen to have a lazy Sunday on hand to let this cook in the oven for a couple of hours, you can still toss all the ingredients together on a weekday morning and enjoy the results when you get home from work.

- Sheela, April 2018

Lemon Braised Chicken & Beans with Mint Pesto

Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 pound

    dried small white beans, such as flageolet

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1

    small white onion, diced

  • 4 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 2

    medium lemons, divided

  • 2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 4

    fresh thyme sprigs

  • 2/3 cup

    finely chopped fresh dill fronds

  • For the mint pesto:
  • 4

    packed cups fresh mint leaves

  • 1/3 cup

    blanched almonds

  • 2 cloves

    garlic, coarsely chopped

  • 1/4 cup

    olive oil, plus more as needed

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

Place the dried beans in a large bowl and cover them with an inch of water. Soak for 24 hours, or at least overnight — topping up the water if the beans soak it up. Drain the beans and set aside.

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Heat the oil in a 4-quart (or larger) Dutch oven or heavy, ovenproof pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they are tender and the onion is nearly translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the drained beans and stir to combine. Turn off the heat.

Take a sharp vegetable peeler and carefully peel 1 of the lemons. Peel it in wide strips, taking care that you remove only the top yellow layer of peel — you do not want any of the bitter white pith. Add all the lemon peel to the beans. Juice the lemon, add the juice to the beans, and stir to combine. (Reserve the second lemon for later.)

Pat the chicken dry, and lightly season all over with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on top of the beans. Add water until it covers the beans and comes up to just below the chicken. Lay the thyme sprigs on top. Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a simmer. Cover the pot and put it in the oven.

Bake until the beans are very tender and creamy, about 1 1/2 hours. Check the beans a couple of times throughout and if they are looking dry, add a few splashes of water. The resulting cooked beans should be brothy. Meanwhile, make the mint pesto.

Place all the pesto ingredients in a small food processor or chopper and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a serving bowl. If not using immediately, store in the refrigerator with plastic wrap completely covering and touching the surface of the pesto to prevent oxidization.

Uncover the pot and transfer the chicken to a large plate or clean cutting board. Remove the thyme stalks. Finely grate the zest of the remaining lemon, then juice it. Add the zest, juice, and dill fronds to the beans and stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Shred or chop the chicken and place it back on top of the beans. Top with the mint pesto and serve.

To serve, scoop up a spoon of beans, and top with chicken. Make sure each serving has a dollop of pesto as well. Serve with a green salad and good bread to soak up the sauce.

Recipe Notes

Slow cooker variation: Cook the garlic and onion as directed above on the stovetop, then stir in the soaked and drained beans. Transfer to a slow cooker insert. Pat the chicken dry, and lightly salt and pepper it. Lay it on top of the beans in the slow cooker. Add boiling water until it covers the beans and comes up to just below the chicken. Lay the thyme sprigs on top. Cook on the LOW setting until beans are tender, about 8 hours, then proceed with the remaining steps in recipe.

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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