Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chicken Au Champagne

Serves 4

Start with the best and most flavorful fresh chicken you can find. Organic, free-range chicken is more widely available than ever. As for the Champagne, I recommend Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut. (Quelle surprise!) Okay, here's my disclaimer: I work for the company, but I am also addicted to its rich, full-bodied style and quality. Lots of good sparkling wines are made around the world, but they don't taste the same as French Champagne. And even Champagnes vary a good deal, depending on the grapes used, winemaking, and aging. Champagne has two reliable properties for cooking (or drinking). The first is dryness. Champagne is an austere wine, high in acidity. With chicken, I am not looking for sweetness, so Brut is the style of Champagne that works best. Second, I consider the flavors the wine imparts to the chicken. Veuve Clicquot is notable for its rich, full body and full flavor, having been made mostly from red grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) with about a third Chardonnay.

4 chicken breasts (with skin and bone)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Chervil, tarragon, or thyme (optional)
1 shallot, quartered
1 cup Champagne (Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut recommended)

1. Place the chicken breasts in a roasting pan, and season them. Pour 1/2 cup of the Champagne over breasts. Make a slit in each breast and insert a piece of shallot.
2. Place the pan under the broiler, skin-side down, for 3 minutes, until the skin is nicely browned. Turn and broil the other side for 5 minutes.
3. Remove the chicken from the broiler, baste with the pan juices, and add the remaining 1/2 cup of Champagne. Adjust the oven temperature to 475 degrees and bake the chicken for 30 minutes, basting once or twice.
4. Serve over brown rice. Sautéed mushrooms add a special touch and go beautifully with Champagne. (In a warm frying pan with a touch of olive oil, add clean, roughly chopped mushrooms, and cook for a few minutes. Add a few drops of lemon juice, freshly chopped sage, seasoning to taste, and 1 tablespoon of butter.) Pour the cooking juices from the chicken over the meat and rice. Serve the remainder of the bottle of Champagne (about 6 glasses) with the meal.

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