Pack your patience and you'll be rewarded with a deeply flavored dish of tender, falling-apart chicken in a rich, caramelized onion gravy. This family recipe is very special to New Orleans chef Justin Devillier, who takes his time getting the chicken and sauce “rich and sticky,” just like his grandma did.
Brown chicken: Dry chicken thighs thoroughly using paper towels. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over high heat. When the oil is rippling, carefully lay the chicken, skin side down in an even layer, into the hot oil. (You may need to do this in batches to avoid crowding.) Allow the chicken to brown for 5 minutes on each side, adjusting the heat from high to medium-high as needed to prevent burning. When the chicken has been browned, return all of the pieces to the pot, lower heat to medium-low, and continue to cook the meat through, turning occasionally, 15 more minutes.
Caramelize onions: Remove chicken from the pot and set aside. There should be caramelized bits of meat and skin, or "fond," stuck to the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat back to medium and add onions to the accumulated chicken fat. Sweat the onions until they start to caramelize and stick to the bottom, stirring often, 10 minutes. Deglaze the bottom of the pot by scraping with a wooden spoon to release the fond. Add celery, garlic, poblano and jalapeño peppers; stir to combine. Allow the onion mixture to sit undisturbed for long enough to create more fond, then stir to deglaze; repeat this process for about 45 minutes.As the water cooks out, the onions will begin to darken and caramelize, and as the caramelization progresses, it will take less time to stir and deglaze the pan. You will be done when most of the liquid is cooked out, and you see only clear fat at the edges of the pot. (It may be challenging to keep up with the speed of the fond sticking to the bottom—it’s a labor of love, but worth it!)
Sauce: When the onion mixture has reduced in volume by ⅔ to a paste-like consistency and no liquid is left in the pot, add the chicken back in. Begin building the sauce by adding water, a ½ cup at a time. Continue the same process of creating a fond on the bottom of the pot then deglazing, allowing the chicken and onion mixture to go through the caramelizing process again. Repeat this step until the onion mixture is a dark brown paste and the chicken is starting to fall apart, 10 minutes. Add remaining water to cover (adding more water if necessary), and salt to taste. Stir, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, 1 hour.
When the dish is ready, chicken thighs will be very tender and falling off the bone in a rich brown gravy. Season with more salt to taste and about 16 cranks of black pepper. Fold in scallions. Serve over hot rice. It’s a “rib-sticking, sloppy dish,” and it’s meant to be eaten that way.