This article was originally featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006.

Aromatic chicken

When I mentioned this dish in passing in a recent report on the modest Spanish red wine that it accompanied, I figured it was too simple a concoction to justify reporting it in full. After all, my one-line description of the dish pretty much said it all: "A quick Franco-Italian creation, chicken sauteed in an aromatic mix of caramelized onions, garlic, bay leaf and thyme over short pasta."

Nevertheless, a surprising number of you E-mailed me to ask for the recipe, so ... well, let's just say it's easy to twist my arm. It really is a quick and simple procedure, though ... not that there's anything the matter with that.

What makes it succeed? Upon analysis, I think the flavors all meld nicely, and the process - sauteeing chicken pieces in a tasty combination of butter and olive oil, then braising them with aromatic onions and a robust combination of herbs but relatively little liquid - infuses the chicken meat with flavors that add depth and complexity and concentration to the dish.

It's not identifiably ethnic, but emerges as a kind of France-meets-Italy main course with enough intensity to stand up to a bold and high-alcohol red. And better still, for busy cooks, it doesn't require much preparation and shouldn't take more than 45 minutes from the pantry to the table.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 to 6 chicken pieces (see note)
Black pepper
Medium sweet onion, about 1 cup (240g) when chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
Several sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Bay leaf
2 or 3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup chicken broth (optional)


1. Melt the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat in a skillet or nonstick saute pan large enough to hold all the chicken in a single layer. It's not absolutely necessary to use both, but I like the combination in this dish, for flavor and because the oil seems to help discourage the butter from scorching during the sautee.

2. When the butter and oil sizzle, put in the chicken pieces, skin-side down. I generally use all thighs, because I like the deep flavor of dark meat, but feel free to use your choice of pieces or a mix. Sautee them, turning occasionally, for five minutes or so, until they're nicely browned on both sides.

3. While the chicken is browning, peel the onion and chop it coarsely. Take the browned chicken out to a warm plate, set it aside briefly, and sautee the chopped onion in the same pan, drizzling in a little more olive oil only if necessary. When it's soft and turning sweet and brown, return the chicken pieces and any accumulated juices to the pan. Deglaze with the white wine, then add the thyme, bay leaf and the peeled, smashed garlic cloves. Stir over high heat until the wine boils and reduces slightly, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, turning the chicken pieces occasionally and adding a little more wine or water in the unlikely event that it starts to look too dry.

4. If you're planning to serve the dish over pasta or rice, you might add a little of the optional chicken broth during the last few moments of cooking, to help turn the caramelized onions and aromatic herbs into a natural sauce. If you're serving it on a dinner plate with potatoes or bread, you may prefer to skip this step. In any case, use only enough to yield a fairly thick sauce. You don't want to dilute the flavors or turn the dish into soup.

I fashioned the dish specifically to build in enough bold flavor to help the rather delicate chicken stand up to a hearty, high-alcohol Spanish red, the Castillo de Jumilla 2004 Jumilla featured in Monday's 30 Second Wine Advisor. It should go well, though, with a Chianti or almost any other high-acid, reasonably fruity red, or even a richer-style white.