Wine With . . . Chicken and Mushroom “Sausages”
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
When Marguerite was in France’s Burgundy region a few weeks ago, she spent a delightful evening taking a cooking class at L’Atelier des Chefs, a gourmet shop and culinary school located in downtown Dijon. Under the supervision of chef Anthony Rabulliot, the class of eight students prepared a very tasty dinner that began with a complex salad (finely diced cucumbers and beets, garnished with smoked halibut and layered between discs of pastry), and ended with an opulent dessert of milk-chocolate mousse, bananas and rum. The main course featured portions of foie gras encased in thin slices of chicken breast that were rolled up, sausage-style. These then were tightly covered in plastic wrap, and dropped into hot water where they poached until cooked through. When the class sat down to eat the meal, winemaker Jérome Galeyrand joined the group. His eponymous Domaine wines, both red and white, were excellent accompaniments to the delicious fare.
Back home, the two of us eventually will try to recreate all of Chef Rabulliot’s recipes, but for the moment the one dish we’ve been obsessively experimenting with is the faux sausages. When Marguerite asked him what ingredient we might substitute for foie gras (a difficult, and expensive, item to find in US markets), he replied that “almost anything” works well. We’ve tried a couple of variations on the original theme, and have discovered that incorporating mushrooms into the recipe results in such a good and supremely wine-friendly dish that we wanted to share it with you.
Not surprisingly perhaps, we found this dish more daunting to assemble in our own kitchen than when Rabulliot was there to steer the class in the right direction and to wield his sharp Japanese ceramic knives to correct mistakes. The greatest challenge lies in slicing the chicken breasts laterally as thinly and evenly as possible. In our kitchen, we’ve learned that, using a very sharp knife, an average-sized chicken breast can be cut into three pieces. (The French breasts were smaller than what we generally find here, and thus could be butterflied into thin portions). Alternatively, you can buy small, pre-sliced chicken “tenders,” though this will make exceedingly petite sausages. Of course one might abandon the whole rolling-up concept altogether and simply layer the chicken and mushroom mixture in an oven-proof dish and bake it. The rolled-up method, however, is truly worth the fuss since poaching yields wonderfully moist, tender, and flavorful chicken. Our “sausages” tend to be bulkier and--to be honest--less attractive than the neat, uniform ones in Dijon, but we’ve found that if we slice the stuffed chicken on the bias once it’s cooked, the end result looks very appetizing. And it certainly tastes delicious.
Chicken and Mushroom “Sausages”
1 large skinless, boneless chicken breast, halved
Salt and pepper
½ pound button mushrooms
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh sage
½ cup white wine
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon minced parsley
With a very sharp knife, slice the chicken breasts laterally into three thin pieces. Don’t worry too much if they tear a little or are slightly uneven. Make them as uniform as possible by pounding the uneven sections with a rolling pin or the edge of a sturdy saucer. Salt and pepper them and reserve.
Set four or five mushrooms aside and mince the remaining ones. Cook them with the onions over medium heat in a skillet with the olive oil until soft and tender. Add the wine, turn up the heat, and cook until most of the wine has been absorbed. Stir in the sage and about two tablespoons of the cream, and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.
To assemble the sausages, center one of the slices of chicken breast at the top of a rectangular piece of plastic wrap about 10 inches long (the widest part of the chicken should be at the top). Spread about one teaspoon of the mixture across the top of the chicken, then begin rolling it down, enclosing it tightly in the plastic wrap, to form a sausage shape. Twist both ends of the plastic wrap tightly to seal the “sausages” inside. Repeat the process until all the chicken and about two-thirds of the mushroom mixture has been used.
Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. Carefully lower the wrapped chicken pieces into the pot and immediately turn off the heat. Do not cover the pot, but let the chicken poach in the hot water while you prepare the sauce.
Slice the mushrooms you’ve set aside and add them to the pan with the remaining diced onions and mushrooms. Stir over medium heat for about five minutes, until the sliced mushrooms have softened. Add the remaining cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened somewhat. Taste for seasoning. Untwist the plastic wrap and roll the “sausages” out onto a cutting board. Slice them on the bias into three or four slices, checking to make sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked through. (If there is any sign of pink, transfer the slices carefully to the pan with the mushrooms and cook them over very low heat until done).
Fan the chicken slices out on two individual serving plates, spoon the sauce over them, sprinkle with minced parsley, and serve at once.
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This dish works equally well with reds and whites. We tried twelve wines with it—six red, five white, and one rosé. (One of the whites was a bubbly.) No color or category seemed inherently better than any other. What became clear, though, was that the wines that really shined all shared certain characteristics. For one, they conveyed the impression of fruit-driven sweetness. For another, they all tasted very clean and fresh. Some of the other wines we tried displayed other attributes—an earthy note in a Rhône red, for example, and a bone dry finish in an Aussie Semillon. These might have been delicious with a different dish, but they seemed distracting, even off-putting with this one. That may seem surprising, since dishes with mushrooms often benefit from wines with pronounced non-fruit flavors; but the exceptionally moist chicken here tastes so sweet and fresh that the accompanying wine needs to do so as well.