Spiced Chicken With Risotto, Wild Mushroom Cognac Cream, and Pan-Seared Ramps
2 chicken quarters (these are leg/thighs)
1 cup arborio rice
3 ounces oyster mushrooms
6 ounces baby bella mushrooms
(you can, of course, substitute any combination of mushrooms — these looked nicest at Whole Foods)
(the following items are not pictured, but more or less came from my pantry)
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 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.