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Chicken All Jazzed Up

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Merrill

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Recently my fiancé, Jonathan, and I went on a double date with his mother, Charlene, and her fiancé, Maurice. It was Jazz Night at Colucci’s, an old-school Italian joint in Northern New Jersey just down the street from Charlene’s apartment (also Jonathan’s childhood home); Charlene had gone to high school with the owner, Joey, who greeted all of us -- even me, whom he’d never set eyes on before -- with a big hug and a smile, and a bellow of “AVVOCAT!” for Jonathan, who is an attorney.

We ordered antipasti and economy-sized glasses of the house white, and the headliner for the evening, a locally renowned jazz guitarist wearing a black fedora emblazoned with his name in sparkling rhinestones, addressed the crowd. He informed the small but attentive audience, seated at a cluster of small tables covered in white cloths, that while his main pursuit was the jazz guitar, he also dabbled in vocals; he plucked out a couple of classic tunes and then launched into what ended up being a fairly exhaustive survey of 20th century American music -- heavy on the Sinatra and Motown, it also included a couple of Bee Gees numbers and a rousing version of “Brick House” (to which Charlene and I shimmied alone on the dance floor).

Because of Jonathan’s previous descriptions of Colucci’s, I’d anticipated an entertaining evening -- and I certainly got it. What I didn’t expect was great food. Although the foil-wrapped butter pats were ice cold (as Jonathan had told me they would be), and the salad laced with pallid wedges of out-of-season tomatoes, my entrée, Pollo Scarpariello, was somewhat of a revelation. Tender morsels of chicken breast and chunks of sweet Italian sausage swam in a simple white wine, mushroom and sundried tomato sauce, reminding me of a dish I used to make regularly when I was just getting into cooking as a serious pursuit. I’d dredge bite-sized pieces of chicken breast in flour and brown them in a big pan, along with slices of sausage. Then, using the browned bits of flour in the pan, I’d make a slightly thickened white wine, shallot and rosemary sauce for the meat, brightening it with lemon juice and a pinch of hot pepper and folding in artichoke hearts right at the very end. Sometimes I used green olives instead of artichokes, and sometimes the sausage didn't make it into the recipe, but the technique of coating the meat in flour before browning it always made for a velvety, rich sauce that cloaked the chicken with its fragrance.

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Below is an updated version of the recipe, using bone-in chicken thighs, which I prefer these days. Feel free to use small pieces of white meat if you'd like -- just make sure to brown them quickly and reduce the sauce before adding the chicken back to the pan for just a few minutes at the very end.

Chicken with Sausage, White Wine and Artichokes

Serves 6 to 8

  • 4 Italian sausages, sweet or hot, about 1 pound in weight
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 lbs. chicken thighs, bone in and skin on (about 8 large thighs)
  • 1 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large sprig rosemary
  • 1 cup chicken stock 
  • 1 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 lemon   

 

1. In a large sauté pan, cook the sausages in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat until brown on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, transfer the sausages to a cutting board and let them rest for 5 minutes. Cut the sausages into diagonal slices about 1/3 of an inch thick. Turn the heat back up to medium and brown the sausage slices well on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Put the flour in a shallow bowl and season it with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the chicken thighs liberally with salt, dredge them in the flour and dust off any excess. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and then the chicken pieces, skin side down. Do not crowd the chicken – you may need to do this in two batches. Turn the heat up to medium-high, but keep an eye on things to make sure nothing burns. Brown the chicken on both sides, about 8 minutes total, remove and set aside.

3. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan and set back on the stove over low heat. Add the shallots and cook for a minute, stirring frequently. Add the garlic cloves and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots and garlic start to turn golden, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes if using and cook for another minute.

4. Add the white wine and the rosemary sprig and cook until the wine is reduced by half, scraping up all the nice brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and the chicken pieces, skin side up. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat so it’s just simmering and cook uncovered, turning the chicken pieces once, until the meat is cooked through and the sauce has thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.

5. Remove the rosemary sprig and discard, then add the sausage and the artichoke hearts to the pan, stirring gently to immerse in the sauce. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Simmer for a few minutes more to warm the sausage and artichokes, then squeeze the lemon over everything and give it one more stir. Serve immediately with roasted potatoes or a simple risotto.