Where I live, in the San Francisco Bay area, the weather has been cold and wet, putting me in the mood for food that’s warm and cozy. Braising is in order at this time of year.
I particularly like this recipe for chicken thighs with mushroom sauce when it's chilly out, but the dish is a regular in my repertoire year-round. Like a little black dress, the chicken can be dressed up or down as the occasion requires. You can keep your meal light and pair this with a simple green salad, or serve it with rice, potatoes or pasta. Put your own spin on it by changing the herbs and seasonings, adding vegetables or opting for a white wine in the sauce for a brighter flavor. It’s also simple to make the servings larger or smaller as needed.
Chicken thighs are pretty low on the fuss meter. They’re full of flavor and extremely forgiving, as they don't dry out as quickly as breast meat if overcooked. The beauty of braising is that, after you get things going, most of the cooking time is hands-off. (I prepared this version fully on the stove top, but you could complete the last 30 minutes of cooking time in an oven set to 350° F, if you prefer.)
If you’re being extra health-conscious and monitoring your fat and calorie intake closely, you could remove the chicken skin before (or after) cooking. Just be sure to reduce the cooking time while searing if you remove the skin beforehand.
This dish is equally versatile when it comes to wine pairings. The cold weather had me in the mood for a red, so I looked for a wine with a bit of earthiness to match the mushrooms and moderate tannins that wouldn’t overpower the chicken. This is certainly Pinot Noir territory, but I wanted to try some other options.
My husband and I sampled a Côtes du Rhône red—a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and more—and a Dolcetto, from Dogliani in Italy's Piedmont region. Both worked very well alongside the chicken, and we went back and forth several times before choosing a favorite. The Côtes du Rhône had notes of plum and berry, plus a dusting of cocoa and black pepper that came out more with the food. With the meal, it came across as slightly richer than the Italian red, particularly as the wine opened up.
Along with its black cherry and berry notes, the Dogliani had a little more earth and tobacco in the profile, which complemented and added depth to the flavors in the food. The structure had some muscle, but not enough to overpower the food, and the wine's underlying bright acidity brought a bit of lift to the flavors as well. Ultimately, we landed on this as the favorite because, as my husband put it, it was a greater “force in the meal.”
Braised Chicken Thighs in Mushroom Sauce
Pair with a Dolcetto from Piedmont, such as Luigi Einaudi Dogliani 2014 (88 points, $17).
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 65 to 70 minutes
Active cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 70 to 75 minutes
Approximate food costs: $14
- 6-8 chicken thighs
- Freshly ground pepper
- Cooking oil
- 20 ounces pre-sliced crimini mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 small onion, diced (approximately 1 cup)
- 3-4 garlic cloves, diced
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1-2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus 2-3 stems
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme, plus 2-3 sprigs
1. Season chicken well with salt and pepper. Grease a large pan or Dutch oven with cooking oil (add a little more if cooking without the skins) and place over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the chicken thighs skin-side down, being careful not to overcrowd the pan, and sear until skin is a deep golden-brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Flip and sear on the second side for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan.
2. Add the mushrooms to the pan, sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of flour, toss to coat well and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with water, extra chicken stock or extra wine, scraping up any browned bits.
3. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and continue to cook until the onions have begun to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the wine, chicken stock, parsley stems and sprigs of thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the mixture for a few minutes to reduce the sauce and allow it to begin to thicken. It should be a little looser than the desired final thickness.
4. Once the sauce has begun to thicken, add the chicken thighs back to the pan, cover and continue to simmer on medium-low heat for 30 to 35 minutes. Before finished, check to see if the sauce coats the back of a spoon; if not, cook uncovered for the last 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
5. Remove the parsley stems and thyme sprigs. Garnish with the chopped parsley and thyme, and serve with a green salad or the starch of your choice. Serves 6 to 8.