Spiced Chicken With Risotto, Wild Mushroom Cognac Cream, and Pan-Seared Ramps


2 chicken quarters (these are leg/thighs)
(you can, of course, substitute any combination of mushrooms — these looked nicest at Whole Foods)
8 ramps (a.k.a. tender baby leeks)
(the following items are not pictured, but more or less came from my pantry)


I prep my vegetables first – starting by peeling, halving, and slicing my strangely oblong shallot thinly, into variegated half-moons.
Then I wash the roots of my ramps, which are tender baby shallots, shot through with vibrant purple, topped with leafy greens, and tipped with firm white bulbs.
I trim off the ends, then cut the green leaves from the pinkywhite stalks. They release a sweetly oniony aroma – not pungent, but thoroughly vegetal. I set these lengths of green goodness aside.
It’s time to prepare my mushrooms, which I wash and dry thoroughly to remove all the silt and dirt clinging to their tender stalks. This strange twin shitake reminded me of Quatto from “Total Recall” (one of my favorite go-to-on-a-rainy-Sunday-afternoon sci-fi movies) … I sliced them thinly and lengthwise.
I also have some delicate, creamy oyster mushrooms. They naturally spring from the same root, bifurcating and trifurcating at their supple elbows and knobby knees, exploding into flowering trumpets from their several sets of shoulders and their outcurling heads. I nip these into individuals, respecting their natural tubular shapes.
I melt two tablespoons of butter in my wok and add half my shallots, stirring to coat, scent, and soften. I add a dash of salt and pepper, and sautee.
I dump in my sliced mushrooms, including my baby bellas (which I bought sliced — which were cheaper, I admit, than whole – but frankly just as good), and I toss well with the butter and soft shallots. I set the heat to low, and — tossing regularly — I let the mushrooms reduce, release their liquids, and simmer in their own rich brown juices. On the right heat setting, this can take as long as you need it to — which, for me, is about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, I have all my other heat sources going, too: on one, I have a quart of chicken stock simmering on low; on another, a few glugs of EVOO and the rest of my shallots over medium heat; on the final eye, I have two more glugs of EVOO simmering on high heat, onto which I’ve placed my…
Chicken legs, onto which I’ve sprinkled sea salt, cracked black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, and granulated garlic, and which I then sear…
On both sides in hot EVOO in my large skillet. After each side has crisped a bit, I place this into a 350 degree oven for the next 15-20 minutes.
I dump my arborio rice into the pan that’s been softening the remainder of my shallots in EVOO. By stirring the pot well, I coat each plump grain with hot fat, toasting their outsides, readying them for the absorption of the warms liquids I’m soon to introduce.
I then add about a cup of white wine. It’s not exact — I just sort of douse the pan with wine, not fully covering my rice, but also not being too cheap. About a cup — which I stir well, over low heat, allowing all the moisture to be sucked in by the starchy rice grains.
Once the wine is absorbed, and stirring the pan means revealing its stainless steel surface, I add 4oz of my warm chicken stock. For risotto, you have to add already hot liquids to the already hot rice, which promotes absorption, and which — when stirred well, as most traditional risottos require — releases the binding strings of starch from the dried rice kernels, creating the creamy texture and toothsome consistency of Italy’s most homey staple.
The technique? Add 4oz of hot stock every time the previous 4oz I added has absorbed into the rice, then I add another scoop. And I stir, and stir, and stir constantly.
When the opaque white center of my rice kernels has disappeared, I try a nibble, continuing to cook until there is no hard starch left in the center of any random sample.
Meanwhile, my mushrooms have simmered down to at least 1/2 their original volume, and I’m ready to add their final flavorings.
Cognac (this is a nip; but looks big, right? I use 1/2 of it, so 25 ml.), and…
Heavy cream — about a cup. I set the heat to low simmer.
Clayton bought me a lovely jar of fennel salt, which I added to this mixture to flavor it. You could substitute ground fennel or fennel seeds, onion powder, and fine ground sea salt instead. I stir this well, flavoring to taste, and set to simmer while the rest of dinner finishes. This can hold for some time, if need be — just stir occasionally, continuing to coat each ‘shroom slice with sweet sweet moisturizing cream.
Finally, on the back eye (which has freed up, since all my stock is absorbed in my risotto), I’ve set my small skillet to high heat, and have brought some EVOO to sizzling. I add first my white ramp stalks, tossing them in the hot oil, searing and browning their delicate bodies. After a few beats, I add the leaves themselves, also tossing well, and also allowing them to sear in the hot, nutty oil, crisping on the edges, becoming more delicious by the moment.
As my ramps sizzle, I grate about a cup of my hard Italian cheese into my ready (tender to the tongue) risotto, and add about a cup of chopped parsley. Now my rice is super creamy, very flavorful, snappy with green and salty with cheese, and ready to mold as a base for my plate.
Finally, I add my chopped chives — our garden’s first harvest of the season! — to my cream cognac mushroom sauce, adding just the green savory freshness to this rich earthiness.
Creamy craggy mounds of parsley parmeggiano risotto support supple, spicy, crisp-skinned legs of savory chicken, and are surrounded by tender, toothsome, rich and complex creamy cognac mushrooms, and topped with garden-snappy spring leeks, sharpened with EVOO and sea salt. A full-bellied beautiful meal, a mouthful of stick-to-your-ribs tenderichearthiness, a nest of wholesome goodness uniting ground, air, marshland and kitchen garden, the chicken and the cow, the simple and the rich. Enjoy this dinner, my friends. I recommend it as salve for the soul.




Friday, May 13, 2011 - 6:18am


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