Tuesday, October 05, 2004
CHICKEN BREASTS BAKED ON MUSHROOM CAPS
Zowie. This new recipe (from The Joy of Cooking’s All About Chicken book) was a cinch to make, yet it seemed so sophisticated. Maybe it was just the fact that I had to cook pan juices down into a sauce, in the French manner, that made me feel all fancy-dancy, but the thing tasted good and rich, too. A pronounced this “an A+ recipe.” I’m not sure I’d go quite so far (my heart still belongs to Greek Chicken, which coincidentally is from the same recipe book), but I was pleased and will still be adding this to my repertoire. I felt especially triumphant because I’d felt so dubious during the cooking process; my chicken, mushrooms, and sauce didn’t seem to be behaving as the recipe said they would, so I had the sneaking suspicion I was doing it all wrong and was about to produce a disastrous meal. First of all, there is a lot of wine involved, and mine just wouldn’t cook down in the oven (or the mushrooms produced a heck of a lot of liquid themselves); then the chicken didn’t seem to be browning; the mushrooms shrank by half; the sauce seemed like it would never reduce and thicken. The recipe and I seemed to go our separate ways when it said cryptically, “For a low-fat sauce, add enough water or chicken stock to measure 1 cup. For a more luxurious sauce, add ½ to 1 cup heavy cream.” It was the “enough…to measure 1 cup” phrasing that had me a little confused; did it mean to just add a cup of water or chicken stock, or did it mean that the water or chicken stock plus the pan juices should equal 1 cup total? I already had a full 1 cup of pan juices. But I was going the cream route anyway, because I love the word “luxurious,” so I just added ½ cup cream to my pan juices and proceeded. And it worked, eventually.
Everything turned out great in the end, savory and intensely mushroomy (if perhaps a tad salty, because I’d used cooking wine, which already has salt in it, so if I’d been thinking I wouldn’t have added much additional salt). It felt a little like alchemy, as it always does when you take plain-seeming ingredients and turn them into something new.
I made a half-recipe, because I didn’t want to be eating leftover chicken all week. We had some green salad on the side.
6 chicken skin-on breast halves, either boneless or bone-in
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
6 large Portobello mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup water or chicken stock, or ½ to 1 cup cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken pieces in a single layer (for me, with three chicken breasts, that was a 9-by-9-inch dish; for the full recipe it should be 9-by-13). Snap the stems off the mushrooms and arrange them gill side down over the bottom of the pan. (Mine weren’t really that large, so I decided to use 5 of them instead of 3. I was glad I did, because they ended up shrinking down so much as they cooked.) Sprinkle the minced garlic over the mushrooms, along with salt and pepper. Pour the white wine over the mushrooms. (Wow, that’s a lot of wine. My mushrooms actually started floating.)
2. Rinse the chicken breasts and patt them dry, then season them all over with salt, pepper, and the thyme. Lay them skin side up on the mushrooms, and brush them lightly with olive oil. Put the pan in the oven, uncovered, and bake until the chicken skin turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. (Actually, I think I ended up baking them longer, because the skin didn’t seem to be browning. Finally it achieved a very light shade of golden, which I figured was close enough.)
3. Pull the pan out of the oven. The recipe says, “Check to see if there is some liquid in the pan; if not, add more wine.” (Here's where I started to worry, because my pan not only had “some” liquid, but it also had as much liquid as when I’d started. I still don’t really understand this. Was my wine not “dry” enough? Or maybe my mushrooms were just really watery. Anyway, it didn’t end up mattering, so don’t worry if it happens to you.) Baste the chicken with the pan juices and turn the pieces over, so the skin side is now down. (I sort of question this logic, as it means that the chicken skin, which has just been crisping, now gets all wet and becomes more soggy. It seems as though if you’re going to bother having skin on your chicken, you’d want it to be crisp and browned. I might reverse the order next time, but I don’t know—I don’t want to mess anything up.) Put the pan back in the oven and bake until the chicken is firm and fully cooked, 10-20 minutes more.
4. Pull the pan out of the oven, and use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken and mushrooms to a plate. Pour the pan juices into a saucepan and add 1 cup of water or chicken broth (or, for a richer sauce, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cream instead). Boil the sauce over high heat “until reduced to a syrupy consistency.”
5. Put a chicken breast on each plate with a mushroom (or a couple of mushrooms if you've made extra), spoon sauce over everything, and sprinkle on some parsley. Just like the pros.
Time: 1 hour