Some people like to keep diaries. I keep recipes and menus. I have a big white box where I put magazine clippings, recipe printouts, and notes I have made when I am planning a dinner or a party or traveling to a new place and exploring restaurants and food specialties. Every so often, once or twice a year at best, I will dig through my box and read my recipes and notes that span over 15 years. I will remember parties and dinners I have held, I will remember countries I have lived in and traveled to, and I will note similarities, differences and trends in food I have used or been drawn to over time. Since I have been seriously cooking all this time, sometimes for work and often for pleasure, this is the best way for me to remember friends, events, places, experiences and meals from long ago.
Tonight I am making a recipe I pulled out of my white box that is an adaptation of a recipe I made from Sainsbury’s Magazine, published by the U.K. supermarket giant. This particular issue was published in January 2000, so it is a wintry, comforting dish, perfect for an autumn weeknight. When I bought the magazine, we were living in our renovated barn in the countryside on the south coast of England. We lived by the sea and had distant views to the Isle of Wight. The landscape was pastoral and windswept by the weather that blew in from the English channel. In January, the weather was particularly brutal. At night we could hear the wind as it whistled down our chimneys, while it gathered up any loose items in our garden and tossed them about like party favors, and we kept our cat in at night for fear she would be blown away like Dorothy and Toto.
Our closest neighbors lived one mile down the road from us, and in the first weeks following our move there, I was home alone with our infant daughter and toddler son, while my husband was away on a business trip. One evening the wind was blowing so hard, I wondered if we might lose our roof. I called our neighbors, whom we had yet to meet, introduced myself and asked if this wind was normal or should I be worried. I was assured that it was quite normal and then invited to dinner. I arrived with my tired children in tow, put them to bed in a guest bedroom, and officially met our neighbors over a meal they cooked for me in their Aga oven. This meal was the beginning of a long friendship. We spent many evenings after that, sharing food and enjoying wine, cooking for eachother on our Agas (no rural English home would be complete without one) in the West Sussex countryside. One evening when they came to our home for a casual dinner, I made a version of a recipe I had torn out of Sainsbury’s Magazine. Tonight I will make it again and think of our friends back in southeast England.
Braised Chicken with Porcini Mushrooms
adapted from a recipe published in Sainsbury’s Magazine, January 2000
8 chicken thighs with bones or 4 large chicken breasts with ribs or a combination of both
3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
1 1/2 lb. (approx. 700 grams) large white and chestnut mushrooms, quartered (halved if medium-sized)
1/2 oz. (15 grams) dried porcini, or 3/4 lb. (350 grams) fresh porcini, sliced
1 cup (240 ml.) dry white wine
1 cup (240 ml.) chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a deep oven-proof skillet or dutch-oven over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. Add chicken skin-side down in one layer in skillet (in 2 batches). Cover skillet with a spatter-guard and sauté chicken until browned, turning once, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate, and repeat with remaining chicken.
Drain off fat from skillet. Return skillet to stove and add one tablespoon olive oil and shallots. Sauté until shallots soften, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and fresh mushrooms. Sauté 2 minutes.
Return chicken to skillet. Add chicken stock, white wine, dried porcini mushrooms (if using), sage and thyme. Take care to submerge dried mushrooms in liquid. The chicken will not be completely covered by the liquid. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering for 2 minutes. Baste tops of chicken with some of the cooking liquid. Place pan, uncovered, in pre-heated 375 F. (190 C.) oven. Bake, basting 1-2 times, until chicken is golden and crispy where exposed and cooked through.
Remove from oven. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Serve with rice.