food-chicken

Wine-Braised Chicken With Mushrooms. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post.

Do you remember one of the first dishes you really, truly mastered? There’s the euphoric rush of actually finishing it, the bliss when you taste it and just the outright satisfaction. I had all those feelings the first time I nailed my family’s chicken with mushrooms.

This was not long after college, in my first apartment, when I was actually old enough to, you know, buy wine. It was a pretty simple dish, passed down from my grandmother to my mom, and like many family recipes, exact provenance unknown. Coat boneless, skinless chicken breasts with breadcrumbs in a skillet, transfer to a casserole dish, pour on a can of mushrooms, a bunch of wine, and bake. That was it. I started making it all the time.

There was a lot I didn’t know about cooking then — that this dish would be called a braise, that you could actually overcook the breasts, that maybe cheap pink “white” zinfandel wasn’t the ideal bottle for making it. In other words, pretty much everything I know now, about 15 years later.

So it was an interesting endeavor when I decided to cook it again after too many years of not making it. The food writer voice in my head started racing through all the things I could tweak, while the loyal daughter voice said, “Stop, you’re ruining the family recipe!” I nervously told my mom about my project, and, bless her, she seemed more pleased that I was writing about her mom’s recipe than annoyed that I was adapting it.

But the changes keep the recipe true to its original spirit. I found I preferred bone-in chicken thighs (skin removed) for ultra-tender meat and rich flavor. Fresh mushrooms replaced the canned — cremini are fantastic, but white button are good, too. Using mustard to adhere the breadcrumbs streamlined the dredging process and added a zippy flavor that complemented the wine, as did a few cloves of thinly sliced garlic. I also moved the entire operation to a Dutch oven, firmly ensconcing this dinner as a one-pan meal.

It goes from stovetop to oven, where I pull the lid off the pot partway through cooking to concentrate the braising liquid into a delectable elixir that just begs for crusty bread to soak it up. It’s light enough to enjoy even on a warm day but hearty enough to please in cool weather, too.

Tasting my revised version, I knew the end result was something my family would recognize. And, yes, I still felt that same ripple of pride as when I first made it.

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