“You’re totally playing the comfort-food card, aren’t you?” he said – and he was absolutely right. We had both had a rough day, the rains were moving in, and I was craving something a bit more substantial than fish and greens for dinner. I thought back to an episode of Ina Garten’s show Barefoot Contessa that I had recently watched, in which she prepared a dish of chicken breasts and morel mushrooms in a creamy sauce. As the day went on my thoughts kept coming back to that dish, and it sounded like just the right thing – something comforting yet elegant, rich but not too heavy, and most importantly, something that would lend itself to a bit of experimentation.
Using Ina’s recipe as a base, I switched things up a bit by using skin-on chicken parts rather than boneless and skinless breasts. I wanted to add something green in there, too, and asparagus seemed like a good choice – the combination of asparagus and mushrooms is a favorite. I tweaked the recipe a bit more by using different seasonings, and what I ended up with was a big success – moist, juicy pieces of chicken with crisp brown skin, tender morels harboring a little of the rich and silky cream sauce in every one of their nooks and crannies, and the fresh green bites of crisp-tender asparagus studding the dish. It was heavenly.
Chicken with Asparagus and Morels
One 1/5 ounce package of dried morels (or about 15 fresh ones)
6 bone-in chicken pieces with skin (I used a cut up whole chicken, minus the wings; feel free to use whatever pieces you prefer)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup butter
3 large shallots, peeled and chopped
1 cup sherry
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup crème fraiche
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus additional for garnish
One bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the bias into about 1 inch lengths
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
If using dried morels, soak them in hot water for about 30 minutes. When they are softened, lift them from the soaking water, gently squeeze them dry and set aside. Discard the liquid.
Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge the pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess. Place 3 of the chicken pieces skin-side down into the hot pan and cook until the skin is golden brown; remove the browned pieces and place them into a baking dish in a single layer. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of chicken.
Add the shallots to the sauté pan with a pinch of salt and allow them to soften. Add the morels, stirring well, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the sherry, increase the heat to medium-high and allow to cook until reduced by half. Add the heavy cream, crème fraiche, Dijon mustard and thyme, and stir well until the sauce is smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Bring to a boil and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove the pan from the heat, toss in the asparagus pieces and stir through. Pour the sauce over the chicken, place into the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through (about 20-30 minutes). Garnish with additional fresh thyme leaves.
Wine Pairing: I usually like to go with a light red wine with dishes containing chicken or mushrooms, but when I read the description of the Scuttlehole Chardonnay by Channing Daughters at Union Square Wines, I had to try it. This wine was absolutely delicious, with round, buttery notes, fresh, bright fruit and nice minerality. It was both soft and crisp at the same time, and it worked beautifully with our meal. We liked this so well we’re talking about buying a whole case of it.