The food of the Loire has an old-fashioned simplicity to it. Among the finest things I’ve tasted there have been rillettes de porc, simply-cooked sandre (pike-perch) from the river, asparagus with beurre blanc, tarte tatin. There are flashier, more creative things to be sure, but when I go to the Loire, I think 19th century, not 21st century. And that’s how I feel in my own kitchen as well, whenever the Loire spell comes over me. The following dish is not traditional at all—it’s a pure invention—but there are aspects of it that remind me of France’s beautiful river valley. Most important is the emphasis on technique: if you follow the simple instructions carefully, you will come up with the most luscious chicken thighs you’ve ever cooked.
Duxelles-Stuffed Chicken Thighs
makes 4 main-course servings
8 large chicken thighs, with skin and bone
dash of freshly ground nutmeg
For the duxelles
1 lb white mushrooms
2 tablespoons of butter
¼ cup finely minced shallot
1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
2. Sprinkle thighs with salt, pepper and a tiny bit of nutmeg. Place chicken skin-side down in a roasting pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake in oven for 45 minutes.
3. Remove from oven, peel back foil, and turn thighs skin side up. Re-cover tightly with foil, and return to oven. Bake for 1 hour more.
4. If using the duxelles stuffing, prepare duxelles now. Mince the mushrooms as finely as you can. Place in a clean cloth towel, and twist the ends until the mushrooms release juice through the towel. Keep twisting until the minced mushrooms inside are dry. Place the butter over medium-high heat in a wide, shallow sauté pan. When it melts and foams, add the minced shallots, stirring, until the shallots have softened (about 3-4 minutes). Add the squeezed mushrooms. Sauté until mushrooms have softened and darkened (about 5-6 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.
5. Remove thighs from oven. Let them cool until easy to handle, then pull the thigh bone out of each and discard. If you’re not stuffing them, just place them under a broiler before serving, skin side up, until they’re brown and crunchy on top, about 10 minutes. If you are stuffing with the duxelles, slip a few tablespoons under the skin of each thigh. Place thighs under a broiler before serving, skin side up, until they’re brown and crunchy on top, about 10 minutes. Stuffed or unstuffed, serve immediately.
NOTE: These simple-as-can-be thighs are great just by themselves—but I like them even better with a little sauce. Any kind will do. I like to deglaze the roasting pan with a cup or so of dark stock, add a little red wine, thicken with Wondra flour and finish with a knob of room-temperature butter whisked in.
2014 Clos Laurent Saumur Rouge
From a winery with almost 215 acres on the banks of the central Loire, comes a beautiful Saumur Rouge (from around the Anjou region if you’re looking at our map from yesterday). This sustainably-farmed estate is run by the brother and sister team of Dominique Tessier and Annie Houet, with the recent addition of Annie’s son, Jean-Francois, to the team. Gorgeous purple-ruby color, gorgeous Beaujolais-like party fruit nose. Touch of chocolate-licorice at the edge. Much leaner than you’d expect, but really gulp-able with a chill. Touch of Cab Franc green appears on palate. A bit of structure in finish. Great roast chicken wine. I used to be in love with Saumur-Champigny, but modern producers have fattened up the wine. Saumur Rouge like this is much more to my taste.