- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

New England winters with their icy winds and frequent snowfalls are a thrill but still a challenge for me, a born-and-bred Southerner.

Where I grew up, winter consisted of a few days when temperatures dared to fall into the 40s. An occasional light snow became a media event for the newspapers.

Still, I have to admit that there is something exciting about the cold weather months, so different from those I knew as a child, here in our small Massachusetts town. When a blizzard is forecast, people race to the supermarket to stockpile provisions, then rush home to cook.

Entertaining certainly doesn’t come to a halt. It just becomes much more casual and often very-last-minute. More than once, we’ve received a phone call from neighbors or friends during a storm, inviting us to share a bowl of spicy chili or soup and a warm loaf of bread.

So this winter, when weather forecasters predicted snow, I sped to the store and returned with the ingredients for a chicken and mushroom ragout. There was nothing complicated about the dish.

I browned meaty chicken thighs, paired them with sauteed shallots and wild mushrooms, then poured a bottle of white wine over the mixture before putting it in the oven for an hour and a half to cook unattended.

When done, the meat was so tender it fell off the bones and the shallots and mushrooms permeated the cooking liquids with their distinctive flavorings. A swirl of sour cream and chopped parsley were simple garnishes.

The recipe yielded enough to serve 4 to 6, so I quickly invited some friends to join us for an impromptu get-together.

A mixed green salad, a crusty loaf of peasant bread and cheese and fruit for dessert completed our menu.

The stew was delicious taken straight from the oven and served over buttered pasta, but you could also make it a day ahead and reheat it at serving time.

In place of noodles, mashed potatoes or polenta would make fine partners.

Chicken and wild mushroom ragout

The chicken can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, uncovered, to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat on top of the stove, stirring.

8 chicken thighs (about 3 pounds total), skin on

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

10 ounces (6 large) shallots

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

½ pound mixed mushrooms such as cremini, oyster and skiitake, cleaned and sliced (see note)

1 bottle (750 milliliters) dry white wine

1/4 cup sour cream

3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels, and salt and pepper pieces well on both sides. Peel the shallots, halve them lengthwise and slice to yield about 2½ cups.

Melt 2 tablespoons each of the butter and oil in a large, heavy oven-proof pot with a lid, over medium high heat. When hot, add chicken thighs and brown them on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.

Add shallots to pan and cook them, stirring often, until they are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove shallots with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add remaining butter and oil to drippings in pan and, when hot, add mushrooms and cook them, stirring occasionally, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Return chicken and shallots to pan. Pour in wine and bring the mixture to a simmer on top of the stove.

Cover pot and place it on center rack of preheated 375-degree oven. Cook until chicken is fork tender, about 1½ hours.

When ready to serve, stir sour cream into ragout until it is well blended. Taste ragout and season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish chicken with a sprinkle of parsley.

Makes 4 generous servings, or 6 with smaller portions.

Note:My local supermarket sells packages of mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced, a convenient if slightly more pricey way to purchase mushrooms.

If you are using shiitakes, be sure to remove and discard the tough stems before slicing.


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