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A Chicken That Finds Its Flavor in the Wild

Category: Food & Drink,Lifestyle

Roasted chicken is a simple pleasure, fried chicken is a delight and chicken grilled over fire is lip-smackingly good. However (though I don’t like to play favorites), a braised chicken dish is always more interesting. I seem to be constantly proselytizing for this kind of moist, saucy slow-cooked dish. You can’t really rush it, and the time spent preparing it (mostly waiting), is a truly worthy endeavor.

There are plenty of ways to braise a chicken. Among classic home-style French dishes, there is the standard poule au pot, in which the bird is simmered whole with leeks and carrots, then served with its own broth. There is the delicate blanquette de poulet, with chicken and vegetables in a lightly thickened sauce blanche, to serve with buttered noodles or rice. Perhaps the most famous French chicken braise is coq au vin, the bistro favorite, red wine contributing color and acid to the rich ruddy sauce; a spoonful of potato purée is practically required.

But there are many more braised fowl recipes in the repertoire — we have barely skimmed the surface. Think of poulet chasseur, hunter’s chicken: It uses white wine, tomatoes and mushrooms, but is certainly related to coq au vin.

I make a version with wild mushrooms — dried wild mushrooms, to be precise. Because their flavor is so concentrated, they’re a cook’s best friend. Even a few pieces or a bit of dried wild mushroom powder added to a sauce or stock catapults flavor.

Of course fresh wild mushrooms are wonderful, but they can be costly, as much as $40 a pound. Dried chanterelles, porcini or morels can be bought for just a few dollars an ounce, more than enough for deep woodsy flavor. You can pick up a small packet at most Italian delis and nearly any supermarket, and online sources abound.

Here, dried porcini and morels, smoked bacon and red wine perfume the sauce to give braised chicken legs depth and character, with a flavor nearly similar to a game bird. Using turkey broth makes this braise even headier. (For a quick, concentrated version, simmer 2 pounds of meaty turkey wings with 6 cups water for about an hour.)

Remember, as with most braises, making the dish a day in advance of serving is a wise decision; it only improves the flavor.

To accompany the saucy chicken, I like small boiled potatoes, peeled and warmed in butter with lots of parsley. But choose whatever carbohydrate delights you. There will be mopping.

Recipe: Braised Chicken Legs With Wild Mushrooms

While this dish of braised chicken legs may feel humble, it has the depth and clarity of flavors to pair with good, aged red wines, if you choose. My first impulse would be a red from the Northern Rhône Valley, whether a Côte-Rôtie, a Cornas or a St.-Joseph. The savory flavors of the syrah grape would go beautifully with the bacon and mushrooms. You could try an aged Barolo or Barbaresco, or a good Valtellina, which is also made of the nebbiolo grape. But you don’t need an exalted wine. Almost any dry red will do, so long as it is not too oaky or sweetly fruity. A white wouldn’t be my choice, but I’d be curious about an older Champagne, in which the wine can take on the flavors of mushrooms and truffles. ERIC ASIMOV


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