I’ve skewed pretty heavily toward comfort food dinners of late, despite, or perhaps because of, my long workdays and the fact that a stubborn bug I thought I’d conquered has come back with a vengeance. The dishes that appeal to me these days are the culinary equivalent of a big chunky sweater, a fleece blanket, a roaring fire sending forth the earthy aroma of woodsmoke, something to force the chill from my bones and warm me to my toes. Braises and stews, creamy starchy sides, our enameled cast iron cookware has gotten a workout. I wrote up a spin on Mario Batali’s “cacciatore” ages ago on my blog, and with a Pat’s Pastured Poulet Rouge in our fridge, one of many goodies we brought home from Saturday’s Wintertime Farmers’ Market in Pawtucket, I decided a do-over was in order. There’s a bit of prep involved at the start, breaking down the bird, browning it in batches, soaking dried mushrooms and sautéing fresh, building layers of flavor in your pot, but once everything is in the oven with its parchment cap in place, you can kick back with a Negroni and enjoy the aromas wafting your way. Served over a creamy parmesan polenta, this is comfort food of the highest order. - lastnightsdinner —lastnightsdinner
Test Kitchen Notes
Lastnightsdinner's variation on chicken cacciatore (which, after brushing up on our culinary Italian, we learned literally means "hunter's-style chicken") is a belly-warming winter staple with a few details that set it apart from other braised chickens you may know: the subtle perfume of the sweet vermouth (we recommend pouring yourself a nip while the chicken simmers away), the sauce-bolstering grated carrot, the one-two mushroom punch of dried porcini and fresh cremini. Serve with your favorite comfort carb -- polenta, mashed potatoes or couscous would all be happy landing pads for the rich, warming sauce and tender shreds of chicken. - A&M —The Editors
1 hour 30 minutes
3 to 3 1/2 lb. chicken, quartered, or an equivalent amount of skin-on parts of your choice
or so Kosher or sea salt
dried porcini mushrooms
extra-virgin olive oil
red (Italian/sweet) vermouth
chopped white or yellow onion
small carrot, peeled and grated (about 1/2 cup)
chopped ripe San Marzano tomatoes (or an equivalent amount of canned peeled Italian plum tomatoes)
double-concentrated tomato paste
dry red wine
red chile flakes
chopped fresh herbs (I used a mixture of fresh thyme, savory, and flat-leaf parsley)
Preheat oven to 325° F. Arrange the chicken pieces on a platter and pat dry. Season well with salt and set aside.
Cover the porcini with the boiling water and let steep until the mushrooms are soft. Remove the mushrooms, finely chop and set aside. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a coffee filter to remove any grit, and set aside.
Warm a glug of grapeseed oil with a glug of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot (I used a large enameled Dutch oven), and brown the chicken parts in batches, skin-side down, until all chicken is browned and crisp-skinned. Remove the browned chicken pieces to a plate or platter and set aside. Pour off all but a thin layer of the rendered fat.
Trim and quarter the crimini mushrooms and add to the pan. Cook until browned on all sides, then add the chopped porcini and the red vermouth, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
Add the chopped onions to the pan with a sprinkle of salt, adding a little more oil if necessary, and cook until soft and opaque. Add the carrot and toss through, then add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, chile flakes, wine and reserved mushroom liquid, stirring well and bringing to a simmer.
Toss the chopped herbs with the mushrooms and return to the pot, stirring through. Nestle the chicken pieces on top, being sure to add any of the juices that have accumulated. Cover the pot with a parchment lid, and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for at least one hour, preferably more, until the chicken is falling-apart tender and the sauce thick and reduced. Serve over creamy polenta with a sprinkle of chopped flat leaf parsley on top.