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Braised Chicken with Tomato, Pancetta and Zinfandel

Bay Area wine drinkers are such fans of Zinfandel that they turn out by the thousands for the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) tasting held in San Francisco each winter. With its reputation as a wine for relaxed occasions, Zinfandel complements winter stews and braises, especially when tomato sauce is involved. For this dish, many Bay Area cooks would use a bird from Sonoma Countys Petaluma Poultry either the free-range Rocky or his sibling Rosie, the nation's first certified organic chicken. Pair this dish with creamy polenta.

Serve with a spicy red wine, such as Zinfandel.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in
      3/4 cup hot water until softened, drained,
      liquid reserved and mushrooms chopped
  • 1 chicken, about 3 1/2 lb., cut into 8 serving
      pieces
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 oz. pancetta, minced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup Zinfandel
  • 1 can (14 1/2 oz.) plum tomatoes with juice,
      pureed in a blender
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions:

Strain the mushroom liquid through dampened cheesecloth into a bowl. Set aside.

Rinse the chicken pieces with cold water, pat dry with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper.

Place a Dutch oven or large fry pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom. When the oil is almost smoking, add the chicken, skin side down, in one layer. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until browned, about 8 minutes, then turn and brown on the other side, about 8 minutes more. Transfer to a platter and pour off all but 1 Tbs. of the fat.

Return the pan to medium-low heat and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring, until the pancetta crisps, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and sage and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer briefly, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom. Add the tomatoes and the porcini and their liquid. Bring to a simmer, adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add a little water if the sauce is too dry.

Preheat an oven to 200°F.

Return the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer gently, turning the pieces once in the sauce, until tender, about 15 minutes. As the pieces are done, transfer them to a heatproof serving platter kept in the oven. (The breasts may be done first.) If the sauce is thin, increase the heat to high and simmer until thickened. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, San Francisco, by Janet Fletcher (Oxmoor House, 2004).