Braised Chicken

As winter rolls round, chicken braises begin to look very appetizing. The basic idea is invariable: chicken legs are sautéed until brown and then baked in liquid. The variations are infinite. The baking can take place in the oven or on the stovetop, for one thing, and last anywhere from twenty to forty minutes. The liquid is usually a mixture of broth and white wine, but beer makes a good substitute in some cases, while red wine will carry this simple dish in the direction of coq au vin. Whatever is used can be allowed to evaporate entirely, or it can be strained and thickened into a nice sauce. All sorts of things can be added, both to enhance the flavor (onions and their relatives) and to provide accompaniments (peas). Once you get the hang of the basics, you can forage in the kitchen for ingredients on hand. All you really need is chicken, a bit of butter, and some seasonings.

The following recipe, adapted from Gourmet's In Short Order, is neither Spartan nor luxurious. Sautéed sliced mushrooms are added to the onions and peas. You'll be in and out of the kitchen in a very relaxed hour. Preparation will be enhanced by the presence of a chatty friend well-stocked with good gossip. Your lines are as simple as the dish itself: "No!" and "Then what happened?"* Just don't forget to use a hotpad when extracting the sauté pan from the oven.

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Peas

The proper utensil is a heavy sauté pan with a lid. (All-Clad is best - but you knew that.)

Prepare the ingredients: Preheat the oven to 450º. Measure out two-thirds to three-quarters of a cup of frozen green peas. Slice a handful of mushrooms, and sauté them in a couple of teaspoons of butter; set the mushrooms aside. Chop four shallots along with pinches of rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper.  In a measuring cup, combine a third of a cup each of chicken broth and vermouth. Dredge two chicken legs in a dish of flour. Take a deep breath and/or a sip of wine. The heavy lifting is now behind you.

In the large pan, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil and/or butter. When the fat is hot, but not smoking, brown the chicken, shaking the pan to prevent sticking. Transfer the chicken to a plate and keep it away from drafts. Toss the shallot mixture into the pan and cook it until the shallots are soft. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side down, and pour in the broth and the wine. Bring the liquid to a boil.

Cover the pan and slip it into the hot oven for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Take the pan out of the oven and remove the lid, Stir in the mushrooms and return to the pan, uncovered, for about ten minutes. That should be that.

Place a chicken leg on each of two plates, and spoon the peas, mushrooms, and shallots alongside. Serve with macaroni or orzo and a glass of good wine. (November 2007)

* If somebody says, "Did they get to Guatemala, too?", somebody has been listening to too much Ruth Draper.

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