Do you remember one of the first dishes you really, truly mastered? There's the euphoric rush of actually finishing it, the bliss when you taste it and just the outright satisfaction. I had all those feelings the first time I nailed my family's chicken with mushrooms.
This was not long after college, in my first apartment, when I was actually old enough to, you know, buy wine. It was a pretty simple dish, passed down from my grandmother to my mom, and like many family recipes, exact provenance unknown. Coat boneless, skinless chicken breasts with bread crumbs in a skillet, transfer to a casserole dish, pour on a can of mushrooms, a bunch of wine, and bake. That was it. I started making it all the time.
There was a lot I didn't know about cooking then — that this dish would be called a braise, that you could actually overcook the breasts, that maybe cheap pink "white" zinfandel wasn't the ideal bottle for making it. In other words, pretty much everything I know now, about 15 years later.
So it was an interesting endeavor when I decided to cook it again after too many years of not making it. The food writer voice in my head started racing through all the things I could tweak, while the loyal daughter voice said, "Stop, you're ruining the family recipe!" I nervously told my mom about my project, and, bless her, she seemed more pleased that I was writing about her mom's recipe than annoyed that I was adapting it.
But the changes keep the recipe true to its original spirit. I found I preferred bone-in chicken thighs (skin removed) for ultra-tender meat and rich flavor. Fresh mushrooms replaced the canned — crimini are fantastic, but white button are good, too. Using mustard to adhere the bread crumbs streamlined the dredging process and added a zippy flavor that complemented the wine, as did a few cloves of thinly sliced garlic. I also moved the entire operation to a Dutch oven, firmly ensconcing this dinner as a one-pan meal. (And, no, I did not know what a Dutch oven was back then, either.)
It goes from stove top to oven, where I pull the lid off the pot partway through cooking to concentrate the braising liquid into a delectable elixir that just begs for crusty bread to soak it up. It's light enough to enjoy even on a warm day but hearty enough to please in cool weather, too.
Tasting my revised version, I knew the end result was something my family would recognize. And, yes, I still felt that same ripple of pride as when I first made it.
Wine-Braised Chicken With Mushrooms
2 ½ to 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, plus more as needed
½ cup seasoned Italian-style bread crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¾ cup dry white wine, or more or less as needed depending on the size of the pan
8 ounces crimini or white button mushrooms, sliced
Position the rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Generously coat both sides of the thighs with mustard and then dip in the bread crumbs (a large, shallow plate or pie dish is great for this), one at a time, turning the meat over to ensure it's evenly covered. Transfer the breaded chicken to a baking sheet or large platter and let it rest for at least 10 minutes to allow the coating to set.
In a Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the breaded chicken skinned side down, all at once or in batches of two depending on the size of your pan. Cook until the breading is dark golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Resist the urge to move the chicken too soon to ensure the breading stays put. Flip the pieces over, ideally with a fork, as tongs can dislodge more of the breading. Cook another 3 to 5 minutes, adding more oil as necessary to keep the pan from drying out and the chicken from burning or sticking. Don't worry if a little of the breading comes off — you can press it back on or leave it to help thicken and flavor the braising liquid. Transfer the chicken back to the baking sheet or platter.
If the pan is looking dry, add another glug of oil. Stir in the sliced garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add a splash of the wine and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the sliced mushrooms, season with a generous pinch of salt and stir. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, just to jump-start the cooking process. Nestle the chicken pieces, skinned side up, on top of the mushrooms and pour in the rest of the wine around the chicken. The amount you'll need will vary based on the width of your pan, but make sure it's enough to cover the mushrooms and just reach the bottom of the chicken.
Cover the pan with a lid and transfer to the oven. Cook for 30 minutes and then remove the lid. Cook an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees. Dark meat is very forgiving, and will be fine up to as high as 195 degrees, so don't fret if you overshoot it a bit. Serve the chicken warm, with the mushrooms and plenty of juices for dipping.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition information: Each serving contains approximately 300 calories, 34 g protein, 13 g fat, 11 g carbohydrate (2 g sugar), 134 mg cholesterol, 510 mg sodium and 1 g fiber.
Carbohydrate choices: 1.