Ask Chef Phyllis
My family loves a good chicken dish. They demand chicken breasts, although my mother always bought whole chicken and used every part. I usually make chicken breasts in the slow cooker, and though it’s good, the breasts get too dry and lack flavor after six hours in the pot. I have a package of parts too, and I don’t want to waste anything. I’m home and trying to use up what I have first, including freezer items. Any good dishes for legs and thighs? Mostly I need suggestions for better-tasting chicken breasts please!
—Miriam from Madison, Wisconsin
This virus has stopped everything familiar in my life, and it sounds like it has for you too. Although I’m a self-proclaimed hermit, I used to have a social life when I wanted one. Now I immerse myself in something that makes me feel satisfied—I write. I answer questions and help others find ways to feed themselves and their families under these new conditions, and this brings me pleasure. It’s been so interesting to hear what people consider important now.
Keep love in your life, Miriam. Enjoy the scents of your favorite perfume and the sounds of music that you love. Feast your eyes, if you can, on a fresh flower from the garden. Yesterday I cut a lone fragrant daffodil, and it fills my kitchen window with beauty. Lack of control over my environment and my nonexistent social life brings up potent feelings, but I’m grateful every day that I can talk with friends. We’re never as alone as we might imagine.
Now, back to your question. I too cannot waste anything, which I learned from my depression-era parents. In fact, almost every email I receive these days has a comment about waste.
It’s not unusual that your family prefers chicken breasts. The breast seems to be the public’s choice these days, outselling other parts of the chicken or even whole birds five to one. Yes, people buy chicken parts, but they single out wings for Buffalo-style chicken wings or thighs for juicy Chinese-style dishes. And, of course, breasts for everything else.
I love rethinking kitchen methods that were in use awhile back. For example, though it’s popular now, the slow cooker was a new tool…well, I want to say over 60 years ago, but my research says it’s been more like 80. The home oven used to be called the “range,” and it was used for Sunday dinners when I was growing up. I can’t remember my mom turning on the oven during the week. Stovetop cooking is faster and easier for weeknight meals. Since this pandemic has changed all of our lives, we’re all home during the day with a family that never leaves and must be fed.
Here is an old blog post of mine from 2014 that you may find helpful: “Three Winning Recipes: Chef’s Tips for Chicken Thighs and Legs.” You’ll find dishes for Mexicali, Asian Sesame, and Mediterranean style chicken, and I guarantee your family will like the variety.
Chef’s note: Using the oven is a gentler method of cooking than the stovetop, thus “huntress” (cacciatore-style) is appropriate. It is indeed a sauce made from the hunt, when wild rabbit was used more often than chicken. I like this dish with both boneless thighs and breasts, but whatever your family likes should be your choice. Enjoy!
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons salted butter
3 whole cloves garlic
2 large onions, sliced
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used skinless thighs too)
1 quart homemade marinara sauce or your favorite store-bought pasta sauce
1 (14 oz.) can mushrooms (stem and pieces), drained
1½–2 cups Chianti (or whatever dry red wine you would drink with this dish)
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Rice, pasta, or spaghetti squash for serving
Green and black olives for garnish (optional)
Special equipment: a large ovenproof casserole with lid (or a stainless steel vessel)
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Place olive oil and butter in the casserole and heat it in the oven. Add the garlic cloves and sliced onions, making sure to coat them well in the oil and butter. Leave in the oven at least 20 minutes, or until the onions are soft and transparent (the garlic will not burn).
- Lower the temperature to 350°F. Add chicken breasts and let them brown, turning them once. This takes about 10 minutes on each side.
- Pour tomato sauce over all. Add the mushrooms. Add the wine and mix well. Season with and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
- Turn off the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Serve over rice, pasta or spaghetti squash and garnish with sliced olives if you wish.
Image from iStock/Olga Mazyarkina.