With today’s seemingly endless supply of practical weeknight chicken recipes, it can be easy to forget that, once upon a time, chicken was considered a delicacy.
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 sheet-pan dinner in sight.
And all those recipes gave me exactly the inspiration I needed to create a creamy, wine-braised chicken dish that’s 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, though if you’re going all out, specialty mushrooms like king, hen-of-the-woods and chanterelles add an even more intense flavor. 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 it 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 350-degree 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.
Recipe: Wine-Braised Chicken With Mushrooms and Leeks
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