A sure sign that spring has arrived is the appearance of fresh morels. They grow wild in many parts of the U.S., so maybe you’re one of the fortunates who have them in your backyard or for whom they pop up on a country walk. You simply have to google “morel foraging” to see how passionate people are about them in nearly every state of the Union.
In France, people forage as well, but I just pick up an ounce or two in one of the outdoor markets where they’re available in April and May. They’re not exactly inexpensive, yet so delicious they’re worth a once or twice a year splurge. We like them any which way – sauteed with asparagus is a local favorite – but the consummate French dish is Poulet de Bresse au Vin Jaune et Morilles. This is a popular classic from the Jura region of eastern France made with a Bresse chicken (regarded as the best there is), a white (yellow) wine that can last for at least fifty years (priced accordingly), and morels and cream. Somehow chicken with morels and yellow wine doesn’t sound quite as exciting, but why not offer a recipe for it anyway, I naively thought.
Well, Bresse chickens are not easy to come by even in France, nor is the sole imitation in America called a Blue Footed Something-or Other; Vin Jaune at $40-$50 a bottle is not something that you would want to toss nonchalantly into the casserole; and if fresh morels don’t grow underfoot, we’re talking big bucks IF you can find them. Not to be easily discouraged, I decided it was still a recipe worth passing on, especially as I’d already acquired my morels and chicken. So here is the poor man’s version of this revered dish: chicken breasts with a full-bodied white wine, cream and fresh morels if they miraculously become available to you. If not, dried are a more than acceptable substitute.
2-4 oz. fresh morels or 1 oz. dried
4 plump chicken breasts, skin and tendons removed
1 oz. butter
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Flour for dredging, salt and pepper
1 tablespoon shallots, finely chopped
3/4 cup full-bodied white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons crème fraîche or whipping cream
– If using dried morels, soak them in hot water to cover for 30 minutes, then drain well. You can then use the liquid instead of chicken stock if you like, but make sure you leave any grit behind. If using fresh morels, cut them in half lengthwise if large and check for any foreign bodies.
– Cut each chicken breast lengthwise into thirds. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Heat 2/3 of the butter and all of the oil in a large skillet and, over fairly high heat, brown the chicken 3 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate.
– Add the rest of the butter to the pan and, over low heat, cook the shallots (2-3 minutes)
– Add the morels and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
– Turn up the heat, add the wine and let it reduce by about half before adding the stock (or morel soaking liquid).
– Cook for another few minutes before adding the cream. Let it reduce and thicken.
– Turn down the heat, put the chicken back into the skillet and simmer for a further 2-3 minutes until the chicken is heated and cooked through. Check for seasoning.
Serve with rice, egg noodles, mashed potatoes or crusty bread to mop up the rich, heavenly sauce.