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Saturday, December 21, 2013


How do you solve a problem like a craving?

It started out very simply. I had a craving for chicken marsala. I know, right?  Sometimes, the relics of the past just seem so right. Think about it. What could possibly be wrong with pounded chicken scallopini dredged in flour, pan fried in butter, deglazed with fortified marsala wine, finished with sauteed button mushrooms, and served over pasta? Italian-American old school. Think of candlelit red and white checkered tablecloths topped with rope-entwined bottles of chianti covered with dusty white candle wax. Yep.  I craved old school chicken marsala. The problem? With the frenzied energy of the holidays richocheting off the walls like rubber Wham-O Super Balls, I wanted the familiar flavors of chicken marsala without all of the last minute fuss. I wanted it to calmly cook itself while I took a nap on the couch.

Braised Chicken Marsala.
I was determined to find the path of least resistance.

I picked up a beautiful (albeit incredibly expensive) organic fresh Pike Valley Farm Foods whole chicken from Good Foods Market & Cafe. The pricey little bird was so fresh that it only took a few swipes with a sharp knife to easily break it down. I seasoned the chicken pieces with liberal amounts of salt and pepper before dropping them into sizzling hot oil. When the chicken started to lightly brown, I added 3 whole garlic cloves (peeled), a handful of pearl onions, and a few untraditional trimmed yellow carrots. Just before the carrots took on any color, I deglazed the pan with 1 cup marsala wine and let it reduce by half before adding 2 cups of chicken stock. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, tossed in a bundle of fresh thyme, covered the pot, and slid it into a preheated 350 oven.

After a short blood mary-induced nap ( about 30 minutes), I knew the chicken needed a bit more marsala and stock. I could tell from the aroma. Trust me. I've walked that fine line between perfectly reduced stock and burned stock, so I added 1/2 cup each  wine and stock before returning the chicken to the oven.

After 20-25 minutes, I pulled the chicken from the oven to rest while I played around with the finishing garnishes. Typically, chicken marsala is served over pasta with sauteed thinly sliced button mushrooms, sauteed shallots, and minced fresh parsley. Hell, I'd already taken the old out of old school, so I stepped outside of the box.

In lieu of button mushrooms, I went with gorgeous  hard to find fresh chanterelles. Instead of shallots, I chose pearl onions. Frozen pearl onions. The path of least resistance. Pasta? Nope. I went with Lexington Pasta Company potato gnocchi.

After chugging a few glasses of wine with Michael, I warmed the chicken over a low flame before sauteing the chanterelles in equal parts butter and olive oil. When the mushrooms were beautifully caramelized, I seasoned them with salt and pepper before pulling them from the heat.

I tumbled the chicken pieces into large pasta bowls filled with pillowy cooked potato gnocchi, scattered the onions to the side, topped the chicken with the mushrooms, and smothered everything with the insanely reduced sauce. To perk things up, I finished with a tangled combination of pea shoots, lemon zest, and orange zest for an unconventional riff on gremolata.

Here's the deal. Ditching the a la minute version of chicken marsala for a braised version deepened the slightly sweet smokey undertones of the wine and produced  meltingly tender chicken.  Napped with the garlic-infused sauce, the succulent meat slipped from the bones like softened butter. That said, the pricey chicken took a back seat to the mushrooms. It was all about the rich meaty chanterelles. Plumped somewhat by the slightly sweet sauce, the caramelized bits on the chewy flesh intensified the natural nutty earthiness of the marsala glazed mushrooms. Golden sponges.

Chanterelle Marsala with Chicken.
A twisted take on a familiar craving.

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