Rustic Chicken for a Chilly Day

January 8, 2020

The first time I went to Italy, I road-tripped in with some Italians I’d met while backpacking around Europe. We crossed over from the French Alps into the beautiful Valle d’Aosta in the far north of Italy, a snowy region known for skiing, castles and rustic mountain cuisine. Their friends had a house there, and we decided to bunk up and enjoy the area. Our first day, we went on a beautiful hike in the foothills and picked local mushrooms to make a delicious lasagna that our hosts cooked.

The next day, my new friends looked at me strangely. They eventually explained that in the middle of the night, I had rolled over in bed and beaten the girl who was sleeping beside me. Normally I’m good for hogging the sheets — but not violence. Two of the other guests had thrown up. The lesson: Be very careful with wild mushrooms.

That’s my most memorable experience in northern Italy because I’ve spent most of my time in Tuscany, Rome and the south. When I taught a slow-cooking class, I wanted to make a chicken dish that would honor that region — and the poor girl I nearly pummeled to death in the night.

Ski Chalet Chicken
with mushrooms, herbs and red wine reduction

1 bottle red wine
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch marjoram
1 bunch rosemary
1 bunch sage
2 bay leaves
1 ounce dried mushrooms (such as porcini, shiitake, oyster or cremini)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for browning
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
60 grinds of the pepper mill

Pour wine into medium saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Add a third of the herbs, including bay leaves. Reduce wine to about one cup. Set aside.

Break up dried mushrooms into smaller pieces and place in a small bowl. Add a cup of warm water and soak mushrooms for at least 30 minutes.

Brown chicken: heat braiser, Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pan (must be fitted with lid, which will be used later) over medium-high heat; let it get hot for 7 minutes. Dry and salt chicken parts. Add olive oil to cover bottom of pan, and add chicken skin-side down, ideally without pieces touching. Brown skin until dark golden, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.

Add onions and cook in remaining fat (don’t let onions burn). Stir every so often, then lower heat to medium low for another 15 minutes. Onions should be sweet and partially caramelized.

Return chicken parts to pan, skin-side up.

Add wine reduction with the remaining fresh herbs. Add dried mushrooms and their liquid, portobello mushrooms and 1 tablespoon salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to medium low.

If using white meat, remove breasts after about 30 minutes. Keep cooking dark meat for another 30 to 40 minutes or so, until meat starts to fall off the bone. (Alternatively, you can bake chicken in oven at 350 F for about an hour and a half.)

Serve chicken with mushrooms, onions and pan juices.
Serves 4.

Elana Horwich is the author of “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen” and the founder of the Meal and a Spiel cooking school.

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