Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
Like salt, alcohol brings out the flavor in food. This recipe for chicken breasts cooked stove-top in white wine and cream of mushroom soup is a great example. While the chicken browns amid a generous pat of melting butter, the kitchen fills with the aromas of wine and mushrooms, and the final meal looks and tastes more gourmet than it actually is. In truth, it's one of the first recipes I learned after moving away from home for college, and I still turn to it now as a comforting dish.
The white wine used here shouldn't be expensive, but it should be something you enjoy drinking. To avoid making the sauce too rich—admittedly, rich is just what we crave at this time of year—I experimented with a lighter-bodied wine with vibrant acidity. A Vermentino created a lovely aromatic steam as it reduced down in the frying pan, bolstering the umami of the cooking mushrooms and ultimately brightening the finished cream sauce.
A side of pasta or rice will make this meal complete. I recommend wild rice, as it heightens the earthy flavors of the dish and its firm texture provides contrast with the moist chicken and cream.
Though I still had that tasty Vermentino on hand, another Italian white—with a slightly fuller body and richer color, but no less acidity—turned out to be the better wine pairing. It was a 100 percent Greco from Donnachiara winery in the Campania region of southern Italy. The Vermentino was fine alongside the chicken, with aromas of green apple and stone fruit and a minerally quality on the palate. But the Greco's weight matched the cream sauce—and then, saving the pairing from being too heavy, the wine zipped up the finish with well-cut acidity and an almost chalky mouthfeel.
I tried a Tempranillo, too, as reds often pair well with mushrooms. Though the wine was a leaner style, its tannins and juicy red fruit overpowered the chicken and sauce. In the winter, reds come to the forefront in suggested pairings, but this warm dish and the right white can hold their own, even on these bone-chilling January nights.
Pair with a bright, medium-bodied white wine like Donnachiara Greco di Tufo 2016 (89 points, $18).
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Approximate food costs: $25
1. In a large frying pan, melt butter over medium heat. When the butter has just melted, add chicken breasts and brown for 3 minutes on each side. (For thicker breasts, increase cooking time here and in the next step by a couple minutes.)
2. Pour the soup and then the white wine into the pan and stir slowly to integrate. Add mushrooms and a dash of parsley or thyme. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, using a wooden spoon to slowly mix. The sauce should be bubbling as the strong aroma of the white wine and mushrooms wafts from the pan. Bring the heat to low and reduce the liquid for another 5 minutes, continuing to stir and scraping any browning edges off the pan, until the mixture achieves a creamy thickness, the inside of the chicken is no longer pink and the mushrooms are soft.
3. Plate the chicken, top with the mushrooms and sauce, and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve with wild rice or pasta on the side. Serves 4.