Crisp days make me want to cook again
The air has gone crisp, and it’s time for dishes like Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Cream. Autumn may have arrived a couple of weeks ago according to the calendar, but it’s only shown up for real in the last week. In the mornings, noticeably darker, I would almost dare to use the words “Sweater Weather.”
We’ve had some glorious days reaching the 20s (70s Fahrenheit) in the afternoons, but the memory of hazy, hot, and humid days has disappeared. I’ve lived in New England just about all my life, and it never ceases to amaze me how surprising I find the change in seasons the first few days after it happens.
Surprising, yes, but in the case of summer’s change to autumn, I am also delighted and relieved. I’m having fun cooking again, and I’ve been braising.
Brown food tastes so very good
File this recipe for Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Cream under “brown food tastes good.” So good. This isn’t going to get you a lot of Instagram followers, but it may earn you undying love. For brown food does indeed tastes the best, as Nigella Lawson says. Braised meats somehow become greater than the sum of their parts, as though in sacrificing beauty, they attain transcendence. Flavors build upon each other in this straightforward, if a little time consuming, recipe.
Delicious in its own right, the mushrooms and cream make it decadent. If you’re feeling especially decadent, you could serve this with pomme purée. The night I made this, I had some beautiful new potatoes from the farmer’s market, so I simply boiled them.
I Know How to Cook: A book of simple recipes
Unlike roasted chicken, braised chicken doesn’t dry out as easily, making for better leftovers (always a plus when cooking for one). I learned this making Julia Child’s pork chop recipe. When I started learning French cooking, I started right off with Julia, but, let’s face it, that’s not everyday cooking.
Looking for something a little more doable, I then got Ginnette Mathiot’s I Know How to Cook (a translation from French by Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini; later called Let’s Cook: France, but now appears to be out of print). I Know How to Cook is a much simpler cookbook, with basic recipes that produce really good food.
Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Cream builds on a simple recipe
From I Know How to Cook, I got a simple recipe for whole braised chicken in butter, with a simple white wine reduction, as well as a variation including mushrooms and cream. It’s as delicious as it is simple, and what’s more, so are the leftovers.
This recipe adds herbs and spices in a marinade to build in more flavors. It also starts with a base of mushrooms and shallots cooked in the same pan, instead of separately. There’s lots of good, messy bits that go into the sauce. It’s not going to win a beauty contest, but you will clean your plate.
Leg quarters shorten the cooking time and other time-saving ideas
I used chicken leg quarters from my Walden’s Local Meat share for this recipe, but I’ve made it with chicken thighs plenty of times. You could even use the dread boneless skinless chicken breast (I’d like to make a plea for thighs here), which would shorten the cook time substantially.
If time is really an issue, you can skip the mushrooms, and finish the sauce with a dab of butter. Don’t skip the marinade, though as it really helps get flavor into the chicken. You can whip up a quick last-minute marinade as you bring the chicken to room temperature with salt, pepper, garlic and onion granules, paprika, lemon juice, and oil, but it won’t be as flavorful.
Illustrated recipe below.
Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Cream
- A fat separator would be helpful here, but not required.
- An oven-proof probe meat thermometer is helpful
- 2 chicken leg quarters or 4 chicken thighs
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ tbsp neutral oil
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 sprig thyme
- 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
- ½ tsp mild paprika
- 1 garlic clove, unpeeled, smashed
- kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper
For the sautéed mushrooms
- 4 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced you can substitute button mushrooms
- 1 tbsp shallots, minced
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 tiny pinch kosher salt
For the sauce
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ⅓-½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped to garnish
Marinate the chicken
- Assemble all ingredients for the marinade, except for the salt and pepper, and add to a gallon-sized freezer bag
- Salt the chicken thoroughly, and add a few grinds of black pepper. Add the chicken to the bag, and mix things around to coat
- Refrigerate the chicken for 2-4 hours, mixing the chicken every now and again
- Remove the chicken from the fridge at least 30-45 minutes before cooking, scraping off the marinade and discarding
Sautee the mushrooms
- In a heavy-bottomed braising pan (I use Le Creuset) or skillet with a lid, heat the butter and oil over medium heat until sizzling and the bubbles from the butter have subsided
- Add the shallots, and give a good stir to coat. Let cook for a minute or so
- Add the mushrooms, not crowding the pan (cook in batches if necessary). Brown them, turning them once. Adjust the heat as necessary to prevent things from getting scorched (a few charred shallot bits are tasty, but you don't want them all to burn)
- When done, transfer mushrooms to a bowl, sprinkle with salt (take it easy here, a tiny pinch and adjust later, if necessary), and set aside until needed. Make sure the bits remain, but if there's a lot of fat remaining, drain it and discard
Braise the chicken
- Pat chicken dry with paper towels and heat more butter and oil over medium-low heat (the pan should be pretty hot still)
- Add the chicken to the pan, skin side down and brown
- Flip the chicken, and continue to brown for 2-3 minutes
- Lower the heat to low and cover. Cook slowly, turning once or twice to cook evenly, until the chicken reaches 165 degrees. This time can vary depending on the size of your chicken pieces and your pan. Using a meat thermometer can really help. You don't need to babysit this too much
- Turn off heat. Remove chicken from pan and transfer to a plate. Tent with aluminum foil
Make the Sauce
- Pour the leftover fat and juices from the pan into a fat separator. Let the fat separate from the juices. LEAVE THE BITS in the pan. The bits are delicious. Make a pretty sauce another time
- Heat the pan again on medium high, add the juices back to the pan
- Add the wine, and deglaze by stirring rapidly and scraping up bits from the bottom
- As the wine reduces, add the mushrooms to reheat, stirring constantly. When the wine is reduced and syrupy, remove from heat
- Add the cream to the pan, and stir rapidly to incorporate. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary
- To serve, plate the chicken and top generously with sauce. Garnish with parsley