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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chicken with Mushroom Hash

Why is it, when I think of hash, I think only of grated potatoes browned in a pan?  When I found this recipe in the Food & Wine 2006 cookbook, my first reaction was "yum" and my second was "whatever you say."  Because the hash in this recipe is cubed potatoes, mushrooms, and pears.  In my limited little brain, that's not hash.  But apparently, I'm wrong as I found approximately one billion recipes afterwards that defy my definition of what hash is.  (And by the way, don't research the subject with Google searches like "what is hash?"  You will learn more about the pasty marijuana substance than you ever needed to know.)

Chicken with Mushroom Hash

Four 8- to 10-oz bone-in chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 oz. sliced white mushrooms
1 tsp thyme
1/2 cup water
2 Bosc pears, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  In a large, deep skillet, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil  until shimmering.  Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned, about 6 minutes.  Transfer to a baking dish.  Roast the chicken for 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the breasts are pierced.

2.  Meanwhile, in the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tbsp oil until shimmering.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until barely softened, 3 minutes.  Add the potatoes, mushrooms and thyme and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper.  Add the water, cover and cook until the potatoes are browned, about 7 minutes.  Add the pears, cover and cook over moderately low heat until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes longer.  Transfer the chicken to plates and serve with the hash.

The Verdict:  Perfection!

This dish is wonderful in many ways.  The first is that it's a visual feast.  It's stunningly beautiful with an autumn palate of golden browns, russets, and yellows.  And not surprisingly, the taste matches the beauty of the plate.  Crisping the chicken skin then roasting it in the oven allows for a lovely, crispy skin that envelops a juicy breast.  And that breast is a perfect combination with the hash.  The hash has soft, almost buttery potatoes, earthy mushrooms and sweet pears.  I wasn't sure that adding a half cup of water while cooking the hash would do anything for the taste.  I was tempted to add chicken broth, but no need.  The water helps to break down the ingredients, creating a very moist composite of fruit and vegetable.  Not anything like the hash I'm used to--and so, so, so much better.

The original recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms.  I'm sure that makes the dish even more decadent, but while I was shopping, I didn't like how the shiitakes at the market looked.  So I went with plain white mushrooms and they were fantastic.  Use either.  Also, they suggest fresh thyme.  As I've written before, I don't use many fresh herbs, especially during the winter.  The dried thyme tasted great, but if you have fresh, you might want to give it a try.  Add two springs and discard before serving.

Make this dish during the fall or winter then have people over.  I promise they'll think you're some kind of kitchen savant. 

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