Monday, February 27, 2012

Mom's Fancy Dish: Chicken with mushrooms, dried beef and cream

Don't know about your Mom, but mine had a certain repertoire of dishes that were deemed fancy enough for entertaining. Anything with shrimp or crab or lobster made the fancy list, as did anything that had a lot of ingredients. A favorite was a concoction of boneless chicken breasts wrapped in bacon, on a bed of dried beef, draped in a sauce made of sour cream and canned cream of mushroom soup. To really gussy it up, she'd add a bit of dry sherry to the sauce. While the highly salty sauce was often delicious, it was kind of pasty, the bacon was always gummy and the chicken on the overcooked side. Unfortunately, you still find this written up on many, many websites and the sad thing is that this old relic from the 1960's has "good bones". The tangy, salty sauce is such a good foil for simple chicken breast that it's a shame to not give the recipe a remake.

For those of you wondering what the heck is dried beef, well, if you've ever eaten creamed chipped beef or SOS, that dish is basically creamed dried beef.  Dried beef is lean beef that is salted, dried and sliced wafer thin. You can find it near the bacon, jarred near the canned chicken and tuna and in some stores, near the hot dogs, but it's a great item to have in your kitchen arsenal because it adds deep flavor and keeps forever.

Since my boss Michael and i had been discussing how much we both liked creamed chipped beef a couple of weeks ago, (and what other off-color names for the stuff we'd heard over the years) I added a couple of packs of dried beef to my cart on my next shopping trip, and decided to see if I could make a better version of Mom's old classic. Well, I could and I did.

Since the dried beef adds so much punch to the chicken, I decided to drop the bacon from the recipe entirely (OMG) and cooked up a batch of sliced cremini mushrooms with onions and heavy cream for the sauce. Plus adding bacon to a sauce composed of reduced heavy cream could get unbearably greasy. Still very rich, but a much more refined version, and yes, Mom, still fancy.

Chicken with Dried Beef and Mushrooms

2T olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced vertically
8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
3 oz. dried beef
1-1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast in 2" chunks
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. marjoram
Black pepper

Oil a shallow baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large sauté pan heat the olive oil and cook the mushrooms and onions until starting to brown and caramelize.

Add the dry sherry and the heavy cream. Bring to a simmer, watching carefully so it doesn't boil over; cook until the cream is just thick enough to coat a spoon. Turn off the heat and stir in the marjoram, and plenty of black pepper. Salt lightly.

Arrange the cut up chicken and the dried beef in the prepared baking dish, tearing up the beef as needed to distribute it evenly. Carefully pour the cream mixture from the sauté pan into the baking dish, and place in the preheated oven.

Bake for about 1 to 1.25 hours until browned on top and the sauce is thick. Serve with bright vegetables and a grain if you wish. Serves 4 to 6.

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