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Mar 4, 2008
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Wine With Chicken a la Turque

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas    

Every once in a while we run into such a wine-friendly dish that we have a hard time finding a wine that doesn't go with it.  Chicken à la Turque, which we made for the first time last week, turns out to be one of these.  (The name is a fancy way to describe the Turkish-inspired ingredients that give the poultry a Middle Eastern accent).  Because this dish includes a complex web of flavors in the marinade, we wondered in advance if it might present a vinous challenge.  But the diversity of tastes all came together so seamlessly in finished form that when chicken and wine met on our palates, they provided immediate gustatory magnetic attraction.  Of course not every wine was a fabulous match.  A wispy Riesling and an unusually delicate Sauvignon Blanc lost some of their sheen alongside the rusticity of the dish, but our guess is that had these wines been endowed with a tad more oomph a good marriage would have ensued.  There's usually another side of the coin, which in this case included an exceptionally muscular Syrah that was a fraction too weighty for a perfect fit with the chicken.  Several other almost-exemplary partners were eliminated simply to make room for the definitive five: a Pinot Noir that was a fraction too light, a Vino Nobile from Montepulciano that was a tad too tannic, and a Grenache with a slightly troublesome overload of sweetness.  The flavor characteristics in the wines we're recommending that really seemed to click with the dish were spice, herbaceousness (particularly in the direction of mint or fennel), and a balanced portion of sweet fruit.  What proved most exciting, though, was how versatile this particular recipe turned out to be with such a wide variety of different wines.


We used chicken thighs, the most robustly flavored part of the chicken, but we suspect the marinade would work equally well with all parts of the chicken, as well as with game hens.  We have experimented with using boneless and skinless thighs, which may reduce the overall texture and flavor (and cooking time) imperceptibly, but makes very little difference in the end.   For the dried mint, we used the contents of one mint tea bag.

(Serves 4)

8 meaty chicken thighs, with or without skin and bones (about 3 ½-4 pounds total)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup yogurt, preferably Greek style

2 tablespoons finely minced (or grated) fresh ginger

2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons dried mint

2 teaspoons paprika

½ teaspoon salt

¼-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Place the chicken in a bowl and toss it with the lemon juice.  In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together, then pour over the chicken making sure each piece is thoroughly coated (if the mixture should be about the consistency of mayonnaise; if it is too thick, thin it with a little water).   Cover the bowl and let sit in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, or at least 1 ½ hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer in a shallow roasting pan.  Bake for 35minutes, then test for doneness-if the juices don't run clean when chicken is poked with a fork, return to oven.



Approx. Price



Farnese, Montelpuciano d'Abruzzo (Italy) 'Casale Vecchio' 2005

(Imported by Empson USA)






A rich but very well-balanced so harmonious red wine, this Italian gem had enough fruit, spice and licorice flavor to hold its own with the zesty chicken, but not so much as to ever seem ponderous or heavy.




Gainey, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Merlot 2005







Though we initially guessed that Merlot might prove too powerful for chicken, this particular dish is so flavorful that the wine never threatened to overwhelm it.  Part of the appeal, of course, was the wine itself-a California red that manages to taste refined as well as rich.




Ottimino, Russian River Valley (California) Zinfandel 'Rancho Bello Vineyard Little 8' 2004






We're not sure that most contemporary Zinfandels will work well with Chicken a la Turque, since so many of these wines are super-ripe and highly alcoholic.  This particular wine, though, tasted surprisingly light and lively, and proved a very fine partner.  Sporting 'only' 14.2% alcohol, its spicy personality meshed especially well with the equally spicy chicken.




Ramón Bilbao, Rioja (Spain) Tempranillo 2005 (Imported by Quintessential, LLC)







The least expensive wine we tried proved to be one of the best matches.  Unlike some costlier Riojas, the smell and taste of sweet oak plays only a minor role here, allowing satisfying cherry and plum fruit flavors to come to the fore.    





Stuhlmuller, Alexander Valley (California) Chardonnay 2006  






Though we're only recommending one white wine, should you make this dish in warm weather and serve it outdoors, we suspect that a white will be your wine of choice.  Just be sure to open one with sufficient heft and depth to hold its own.  A good, full-fleshed Chardonnay like this one, with bright fruit but also spicy secondary flavors, will shine especially brightly.