Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Orecchiette with Chicken and Mushroom Cream Sauce

While most people are used to heavy cream sauces, along the lines of an Alfredo, this dish is much different.  The mushrooms are cooked down with some sauteed onion and sherry, and then cream is added at the end to thicken it up just a bit along with some Parmesan cheese.  The result is a beautifully light and creamy coating over the pasta, with flavorful tender mushrooms.  The chicken adds some extra savory flavor and some protein.  I chose orecchiette as the perfect pasta with little pockets to hold the sauce.  

Overall, I loved everything about this dish- and I'm not usually a mushroom lover.  The different types of mushroom used in this dish make a big impact on the flavor, and I was lucky enough to find that my local Hispanic/Asian store sells them for insanely cheap prices.  (Unlike, ahem ahem, the farmer's market or Whole Foods)  This would also make a great vegetarian meal by simply omitting the chicken. 

Oyster Mushrooms
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (breasts work too but thighs have more flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease or vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper OR grains of paradise (we used the latter)
  • 8 oz shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
  • 8 oz oyster mushrooms, tough stems removed and sliced
  • 1 small yellow onion, or 1/2 of a large onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb orecchiette

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and add the bacon grease or vegetable oil.  Add the garlic and cook for a couple minutes, removing it with a slotted spoon when it just starts to brown.  This flavors the oil for the chicken, and the garlic is added back in later.  However, if you are in a rush you could skip this step and just add the garlic later on. Trim the fat off of the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  If you're using breasts, cut them into smaller pieces to reduce cooking time.  Place the chicken in the pan and season the other side.  Flip once the first side down has started to brown- about 4-5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water with a couple tablespoons of salt.  When the chicken is cooked through, remove from the pan and add the onion and sliced mushrooms.  Saute for about 2-4 minutes.  

At this point your pasta water should be boiling, so add the pasta and cook until just al dente.  Pour the sherry into the onion mushroom mixture and scrape up all the bits on the bottom of the pan to deglaze and allow the mushrooms to absorb all of that flavor.  When the sherry has been mostly reduced, add the thyme and garlic.  

Cook for about 3 minutes before adding the cream. Stir to combine and when heated through, add the chicken.  

Simmer for another 3 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add 3/4 c Parmesan and mix in. 

When the pasta is done, drain it and put it back in the pot.  Mix in the sauce, and serve hot with the remaining Parmesan on top. 

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