Spring Flavors, Winter Comfort
The transition between winter and spring can often be a little challenging for the home cook. Market shelves are unpredictable, and the quality and taste of produce is heavily dependent on whether the season cooperates in prime growing areas. Not to mention, at this time of year, it can be hot and sunny one day, then frigid, wet, and even snowy the next (at least in Colorado). As someone who usually cooks according to what the weather is doing, the unpredictability can certainly clash with my menu planning.
Braising is a wonderful way to prepare a hearty meal with lots of depth, and an ideal cooking method for this weird seasonal transition. This recipe takes all the comforts of hearty winter fare and pairs it with fresh, spring-like produce, mirroring that transition beautifully.
Traditionally, all braising recipes consist of two cooking methods, both dry and wet heat. First, the meat is browned on the stovetop, after which a liquid is added—in this case white wine—and the dish finishes by slowly stewing in its own juices, creating luscious, fall-off-the-bone meat and a deeply aromatic sauce.
No matter the weather, leeks are usually fairly consistent in quality throughout the year, though I always think of them as a quintessential spring vegetable. Their flavor is excellent this time of year, and most importantly, the tenderness of the early spring leek is far superior to those grown at other times of the year. Highly nutritious, with a delicately sweet, mellow onion flavor, they are a vegetable that doesn’t get enough recognition. And they form the foundation of a fantastic gravy, especially harmonious with earthy mushrooms, as we’ve done here.
This recipe can be made in the oven, on the stovetop, or even in a slow-cooker, for times when you’ll be away all day at work. The velvety sauce begs for something to soak up all its deliciousness. For a complete and fuss-free one-pot meal, throw a few potatoes into the pot as the chicken cooks, if you’d like. Or pair it with a creamy vegetable mash of potatoes or other root vegetables, especially welcome on colder nights. Rice, or a similar substitute, would be excellent as well, as would a crusty baguette. Pair this with lightly steamed and buttered seasonal veggies, like peas, asparagus, or spinach, for a warming, winter-worthy meal that also evokes the fresh spirit of spring.
Wine-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Mushrooms
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 1 ½ hours
Special equipment: kitchen twine
2 tablespoons butter, divided
8-12 bone-in chicken thighs (depending on size), skin removed
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons sea salt
4 small leeks, or 3 larger ones, white and pale green parts only, sliced in half vertically, then into half moons
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced thickly or halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour or gluten-free alternative (optional, for thicker sauce)
1 sprig thyme
6 parsley stems
1 bay leaf
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¾ cup chicken stock or water
¼ cup chopped parsley
- If using oven, preheat to 375“F.
- Submerge sliced leeks in a large bowl of cold water to soak. Rustle the leeks around occasionally, separating the layers, to allow any grit to sink to the bottom of the bowl.
- Meanwhile, over medium heat, melt half the butter in a large, heavy pot with a lid (oven-proof, if you plan to go that route). Season chicken on both sides with salt, pepper, and paprika. Sear chicken, skin side down, until browned, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken over and brown the other side. Transfer browned chicken to a large bowl and set aside.
- Add remaining butter to pot. Carefully lift leeks from water, allowing excess water to drain off, then add to the pot. Cook about 5 minutes with a little salt and pepper, scraping up all the browned bits in the pot with a wooden spoon, then add mushrooms and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. If using flour as a thickener, add that now and cook for 1 minute.
- Tie herbs together with kitchen twine and add to pot. Add wine and bring to a boil for 1 minute, then add chicken stock or water. Return chicken to the pot, along with any accumulated juices from the bowl, nestling chicken down into the liquid. Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to the oven, or simmer on stovetop, stirring occasionally, until chicken is very tender, about 1 hour.
- Add parsley to chicken and stir through before serving.
Image from Briana Goodall.