This satisfying, comforting recipe for Hunter’s-Style Chicken with Mushrooms has roots in both Italian and French cuisine as Pollo a la Cacciatora and Poulet au Chasseur. You may ask why it is called Hunter’s-Style Chicken with Mushrooms when it contains no game. Well, the dish can actually be made of rabbit and it does speak to a time that game birds and mushrooms were a typical foraged combination in the fall. Or, perhaps more likely, a hapless hunter returns home from his walk in the woods with no game, but a sack full of mushrooms he found along the way.;)
Mushrooms are fantastic in fall dishes. Their meatiness shines when the weather starts to turn and we move from quick cooking to more slowly cooked stewed dishes. Adding mushrooms in virtually any form—raw, sautéed, whole cap garnish, even a dusting of dried powder—will add an umami lift to foods. (Dried mushrooms tend to have more umami than fresh ones, and cooked mushrooms are more umami-rich than raw.)
The word umami means “yummy” or “delicious” in Japanese. It’s also known as the “Fifth Taste” and is sometimes also described as “savory” to go along with sour, salty, bitter, and sweet. When considering umami, think of the meaty flavor of mushrooms, earthy sweet potatoes, the richly vegetal flavor of winter greens, and the natural saltiness of a tomato. And, that combination of two ingredients high in umami are the key to why this dish tastes so good and is so satisfying.
Mushroom Health Benefits
Mushrooms were long considered part of the plant kingdom. It was only in the mid-20th century that they were recognized as belonging to their own kingdom: fungus (plural fungi) and distinct from plants or animals. They were also considered nutritionally void, which we now know not to be true.
Mushrooms are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. They are also a great source for B-vitamins; riboflavin (B2), which helps maintain healthy red blood cells; plus niacin, pantothenic acid (which plays a number of metabolic roles) as well as biotin and folate (which we know is important for pregnant women).They are one of the richest, natural sources of selenium, an essential mineral that strengthens the immune system and may help reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic illnesses.
How to Store & Fresh vs. Dried
Fresh mushrooms are still alive when purchased! Do not place them in a plastic bag, which will suffocate them and eventually make them slimy. Ugh. Instead, store them in a brown paper bag in the fridge until ready to use. (It’s OK if they dry out a bit.)
With dishes calling for fresh mushrooms, you can certainly use inexpensive white button, shiitake, cremini, or morel. However, if you really want to amp up the umami and flavor, add dried mushrooms, as well. Fresh mushrooms will soak up intense dried mushroom flavor like a sponge.
Dried mushrooms are convenient and affordable. They’re great to boost the flavor of a dish on harried weeknights when the clock is ticking. The flavor of dried mushrooms is concentrated and intense, and the texture is good and meaty. Dried mushrooms can be stored indefinitely in a cool, dry place. I typically store them in a glass jar with a screw top lid. Just remember, the older the mushroom, the drier it will eventually become and may need a longer soaking time to rehydrate.
Recipes for Dried Porcini
If I were walking in the woods in Italy or France (oh, I wish!!) I might come across wild porcini, known as cèpes in French, “king bolete” in English, or “Boletus Edulis” in Latin. Alas, that’s not likely as in my part of the United States. They are one of the Western world’s most popular mushrooms. Personally, when fresh, I love these aromatic intoxicants as much as the sought-after black truffle.
Porcini are prized for their meaty texture, great depth of flavor, and distinct shape. They are rich and amazingly versatile, delicate enough to give grace to an elegant stew or salad, and yet vigorous enough to stand up to something as powerful as a thick grilled steak.
Fresh porcini are very costly, rarely found even in a gourmet consumer market, and either ordered online or solely reserved for high end restaurants. Dried porcini are, however, increasingly available even at my local “regular” grocery store. The best part is that only a small amount of dried porcini are needed when combined with less expensive fresh white button or cremini mushrooms.
How to Rehydrate Dried Porcini
One of the big challenges with dried porcini is the grit. (Not grit like my kind of grits, but sand and soil.) Cheaper mushrooms tend to have more grit, and the amount of grit can vary from producer to producer, depending on how they handle and clean the raw mushrooms before drying. In general, Italian dried porcini are finer and more expensive than other commercially available dried mushrooms produced in China.
Set up a fine mesh sieve with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Set aside. Place the dried porcini in a bowl and pour over hot water. I’ve found that hot tap water will suffice, there’s no need to use boiling water. Stir to combine and to submerge the mushrooms. Set aside to hydrate until plumped, about 20 minutes.
Then, remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon. DON’T THROW AWAY THE LIQUID! It’s the added bonus of intensely flavored mushroom and can make a real difference in the overall flavor of the dish. However, this is likely where the grit will be. Decant the mushroom liquid through the cheesecloth, stopping at the very end leaving any possible grit in the bowl.
I’m certain you’ll enjoy this simple, comforting braised dish. I’m suggesting using bone-in skinless thighs to cut down on the fat. You can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but you’ll need to cook them for only about 10 minutes or they will be as dry as the Sahara. Traditionally, Hunter’s Chicken with Mushrooms would be served with egg noodles or potatoes; if you want to amp up the nutrition, serve it aside toothsome farro or nutty quinoa.
Bon Appétit Y’all!
PS Check out this sheet pan supper for a super easy winner winner chicken dinner!
Hunter’s Chicken with Mushrooms
- 2 ounces dried porcini
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
- 8 bone-in chicken thighs skin removed
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 pound small mushrooms such as white button and cremini, stem ends trimmed and halved
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 28- ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf preferably fresh
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary more for garnish
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Place the porcini in a bowl. Pour over the hot water and set aside to rehydrate. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole over medium high heat until shimmering. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken without crowding to the casserole. Cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Reduce the heat slightly. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until clear and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until no longer squeaky when stirred, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds then add the wine and cook until almost dry, about 3 minutes. (Add the garlic after the mushrooms are cooked so it’s less likely to burn.)
- Remove the rehydrated porcini with a slotted spoon and decant the liquid as described above. Add the porcini, strained porcini broth, crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, and rosemary. Nestle the chicken in the sauce, cover and simmer over moderately low heat until nearly cooked, about 20 minutes. Remove the bay leave and rosemary. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
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