My folks were hosts, most often, for family dinners on Sunday afternoons. My mom was a superb cook, who, like most American woman, focused on simple foods, but did them so well, people remembered those meals for decades. Even after forty years of trying, I still can’t replicate her steaks, charred a tiny bit and crispy on the outside, just salty enough, and rare in the middle. Wondrous.
We lived in a farming community, which meant my dad worked twelve hours days with two hours of chores (those didn’t count as work) at the end of the day. Sunday was a church and rest day. That meant he didn’t work except for those chores. It was also the day to get caught up with family and friends, and to invite a little bit of culture into our lives. People would actually talk to each other, while the cousins chased each other around the lawn. Sometimes that was benign; sometimes it was not.
My favorite guests were a physician and his family who had been on a summer mission trip to Nigeria, which sounded like the perfect summer vacation to me. Their slides were stunning: the thatched huts, the plantings of squash and sweet potatoes, people lived their lives outside, the colorful-imaginative clothes and the ramrod straight posture, people who were so different from my family in so many ways. I never thought that traditionally uneducated people were less intelligent or less humane, they just knew different things than I knew. I loved it.
So, it’s no wonder that I love communal meals. I’ve prepared plenty, but few of mine have had that languorous sensibility of the luxury of a long, summer afternoon. I had people over for dinner one evening after a long day of skiing. Over spaghetti and chat, my little Chihuahua/weiner dog, Wink, was carefully hauling out one piece underwear after the next. I couldn’t see what was happening, but the guys could, and they would lapse into one serious round of giggles after another as each pair of panties hit in the middle of the living room. So you can sorta see how home entertaining went for me.
But I still really love chicken on a Sunday afternoon. Sundays require a little more pizzazz and this recipe is the most succulent, the most decadent of any I’ve seen. As we evaluated each Sunday meal as children: “It’s just good.” My mom would have loved it.
Chicken in Sweet, White Wine and a Lot of Cream
1 chicken, 3-5 lbs, cut into serving pieces (leave the back, wings, and neck in the freezer for stock)
¼ cup flour, salt and pepper to taste
Put the chicken in the flour to coat.
On low – medium low, melt ½ cube of butter, add 1 tablespoon of veggie oil into a sturdy, cast iron skillet with high sides. Gently brown the chicken, turning until all sides are golden brown. If this takes a few minutes, that’s all right. High heat will burn the butter and ruin the chicken. This isn’t a race today. Remove the chicken, and pour off the fat. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat up another couple of tablespoon of butter, and add ½ chopped sweet onion (Oregon grows the best ones) and two boxes of mushrooms, rinsed and halved. You just need to be on low/medium low and you want to just sweat the veggies. No browning. Add the chicken back in and cover with 2 generous cups of Riesling (sort of sweet) wine. Dry wine here is not what you want. Nor do you want an over-poweringly sweet wine. Slowly bring the wine to a slow rolling boil and then put the whole thing in the oven for 45 minutes. Cover with the lid or foil.
When the chicken is done, put the dish on top of the stove again. Put the chicken in a serving dish. Skim the fat from the sauce and let it come to a boil. The sauce will reduce by half almost instantly. Add 1 cup of heavy cream and about a teaspoon of tarragon. Basil works too, so does a hint of nutmeg or a little bit of paprika. Although I just choose one of them. You can adjust the fat content in lots of ways (half ‘n half/low fat cream.) But it won’t be as luxurious. Cover the chicken with the sauce, the vegg, and ¼ cup of chopped parsley.
You can serve this with buttered noodles, an avocado/grapefruit salad (the acidic nature of the grapefruit is welcome against the richness of the dish), some slightly cooked vegetables, maybe spring carrots from the garden. Dessert is nice too.
The main thing you need though is lots of people to talk to and all afternoon to do it.