All cooks have them – the recipes that live in the back of your brain, ready to emerge when you don’t know what to cook. You know they’re good, so you pull them out when you don’t feel up to the time and energy challenge of something new which might require a visit to the lesser traveled aisles of the Asian market. The list of ingredients is easy to remember and on every supermarket shelf.
Some call these recipes “comfort food,” and I guess they are. They tend to be dishes associated with good feelings and lack of risk, but not lack of flavor. (Maybe Japanese cooks think sea urchin is comfort food, who knows?) I believe the term minimizes the importance of these recipes in a cook’s life and makes them seem, somehow, lesser than other dishes. I prefer to look at them as old friends, and it’s good to spend time with them.
Some new friends become old friends, and a recipe that I cooked last night has done just that. Several months ago, I was in a mood for something new and flipped through “Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster’s Market” by Sara Foster (Clarkson Potter, 2005). Foster is the owner of Foster’s Markets in Durham, N.C. and Chapel Hill, N.C. It was a chilly day, as I recall, and the hearty, tomatoey goodness of her recipe for Chicken Cacciatore struck a chord. Now, the recipe has joined the jolly clan in my head. This dish has another quality of a good old reliable: It makes great leftovers.
I have streamlined Foster’s recipe a bit. The original says to first roast the mushroom caps, drizzled with the sherry vinegar, in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. I’m sure that adds a depth of flavor to the dish, but I skip it in the name of convenience. Yesterday, I used boneless chicken thighs instead of bone-in ones, and it sped up the cooking time. I prepare the dish in a large, non-stick electric frying pan and cover it for the simmering time at the end, to cut down on sauce spatters. Here’s my new-old friend, with thanks to Sara Foster.
Adapted from “Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster’s Market” by Sara Foster (Clarkson Potter, 2005)
3 tablespoons olive oil
About 3 pounds boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon dried marjoram (divided use)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small yellow onion, diced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
Heat the olive oil on medium-high in a large skillet. Sprinkle half of the marjoram over the chicken along with a little salt and pepper. Put the chicken in the skillet, lower the heat to medium, and cook until lightly browned on both sides, 3 or 4 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate.
Add the onion and mushrooms to the skillet and raise the heat back to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the wine and vinegar and bring to a boil, scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue to boil for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed.
Return the chicken to the pan. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or so, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the parsley and remaining marjoram; cook a minute or two. Garnish with Parmesan, if desired.
Serves 4 to 6.