Chicken is a wonderfully versatile food. Good chicken, I mean: birds that were fed decently, given room to move around, and allowed outside in fields to snack on seeds and bugs. Battery-raised chickens – well, most of us would rather not taste a battery of any kind. Fortunately, it’s getting easier to find good chickens in grocery stores. To me they’re well worth their premium price, and I love to cook with them.
One of my (many) favorite ways with chicken is a braised dish I developed for our book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It’s a common enough basic approach, but it carries an intriguing hint of the far eastern spice trade that brought wealth to Renaissance Venice.
In a casserole I soften chopped celery, onion, and carrot in butter and olive oil. I cut up the chicken, flour the pieces, and brown them among the aromatic vegetables. I pour in white wine, add 2 whole cloves and ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and deglaze the pan until the wine is almost evaporated. It’s just a small amount of spice, but its fragrance gently permeates the entire dish.
Next I mill a cup of drained, canned plum tomatoes into the casserole (or use my own simple San Marzano tomato sauce) stir, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender, turning the pieces occasionally and adding salt and pepper. Of course, nobody in Renaissance Venice cooked with tomatoes, but modern-day Venetians sometimes do.
While the chicken is cooking, I separately saute sliced mushrooms and add them to the casserole for a final five minutes.
The entire dish can be made in advance and reheated later for serving. It’s really delicious, if I do say so myself!