Thumbing through my copy of The Escoffier Cookbook, I was struck by the opulence attached to the bird. It starred in dozens of recipes, wrapped in puff pastry, drenched in cream, swathed in sheets of aged ham, stuffed with truffles, basted with Madeira. There wasn’t a traybake dinner in sight.
And all those recipes gave me exactly the inspiration I needed to create a creamy, wine-braised chicken dish that is deluxe enough for a holiday meal, though not that much more complicated than what I’d make on any given Tuesday.
The first thing is to find some really good chicken. If you can get it from a farmers’ market, all the better. Otherwise, look for air-chilled, antibiotic-free and preferably organic chicken at the supermarket. It will be more expensive than a standard bird, but going big on chicken is still less of a splurge than buying many other classic, meaty holiday options.
Then there are the mushrooms in the recipe, which can be as extravagant as you like. Creminis, shiitakes and white buttons will work perfectly, although if you’re going all out, specialty mushrooms like king, hen-of-the-woods and chanterelles add an even more intense flavour. Or use a combination: a few earthy black trumpets will go a long way in the pot.
You’ll also need some wine for the sauce. Common kitchen wisdom dictates adding a splash from the bottle you’re planning to drink at dinner. But I usually use wine left over from dinner the night or two before. When sealed and stored in the fridge, leftover wine is perfectly fine for cooking, and you can use any (dry) variety for this adaptable braise. That means white, red, rosé or even a sparkling or orange wine, if that’s what you’ve got.
Like all braises, this one gets better after sitting overnight. Prepare it up until the moment when you would stir in the crème fraîche, then stick it in the refrigerator for up to two days. Warm it over low heat on the stovetop, or in a 180C oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Then stir in the crème fraîche and garnishes.
Serve it with crusty bread, polenta, rice or a heap of buttered noodles, with more crème fraîche on the side for maximum richness – and maximum joy.
Wine-braised chicken with mushrooms and leeks
By: Melissa Clark
Total time: 1 hour
1.6kg chicken, cut into 8 pieces (or use 1.6kg bone-in chicken parts)
2 tsp salt, plus more as needed
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tbsp unsalted butter
100g thinly sliced mushroms (preferably specialty mushrooms, such as king, hen-of-the-woods, chanterelles or black trumpet, or a combination)
2 large leeks, halved and thinly sliced into half-moons (use white and light green parts)
2 to 3 rosemary sprigs
180ml dry white wine (or use a dry red or rosé)
60g crème fraîche, plus more for serving if desired
2 tbsp chopped chives
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest, plus more for serving
Handful finely chopped fresh parsley, leaves and tender stems, to taste
1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Season all over with 1½ teaspoons salt and the black pepper. Finely grate, pass through a press or mince 2 garlic cloves. Set aside half the grated garlic for finishing the dish. Rub the rest all over the chicken pieces. Set aside the chicken while preparing the other ingredients.
2. In a casserole dish over medium-high heat, combine 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter melts, add chicken in batches and cook until browned on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side. If the pan dries out, add a little more oil as needed. Transfer browned chicken to a plate.
3. Add remaining tablespoon each oil and butter to the pan. Once the butter melts, add mushrooms and cook undisturbed until well browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir and cook for 1 minute longer.
4. Thinly slice 2 garlic cloves. Reduce heat to medium, and stir in sliced garlic, leeks and a large pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender and golden brown, 7 minutes. Add rosemary and wine to the pot and let simmer, scraping up the browned bits, until liquid reduces by half, about 1 minute.
5. Nestle chicken, skin side up, into the pan and pour in any accumulated juices from the plate. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until chicken is cooked through, 25 to 35 minutes.
6. Transfer chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Pluck the rosemary sprigs from the pot. If the sauce looks thin, turn the heat to medium-high and let simmer until it thickens slightly, 2 to 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining grated garlic, the crème fraîche, chives and lemon zest. Taste sauce and add more salt if needed. Spoon sauce over the chicken and top with parsley, more lemon zest and a dollop of crème fraîche, if you like, and serve.
© The New York Times
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