Rowley Leigh's chicken with morels

I have given up listing vin jaune at the restaurant as so many people send it back as oxidised or “off”. It is true perhaps that its extraordinary sherry-like flavour is not to everybody’s taste. This somewhat misunderstood wine from the Jura is also famous as an ingredient in the classic combination of chicken with morels.

I happen to have a couple of bottles of Château Chalon – perhaps the benchmark vin jaune – in my meagre cellar. It is a fabulous wine and very probably an excellent addition to the dish. I toyed with the idea of using one of my precious bottles thus: how good it would look in the picture, a glass of the deep gold liquid (mine is 2005 and just peaking) beside the dish. I toyed and then, I am sorry to say, recoiled at the idea: I can never have the heart to pour fine wine into a frying pan.

The tradition of cooking chicken with vin jaune and morels doubtless stems from the time when the chicken would have been the most prized item of the three – since vin jaune would have been the vin de pays and morels were free to those who could be bothered to pick them. So they still are but when I pluck them from the stall of my posh greengrocer they cost something like £90 a kilo. Since 100g is certainly sufficient for this dish, it is not perhaps such an indulgence.

You either love morels or you don’t. I have known people not to get the point, despite their succulence, the sensuous way in which the gills will trap an unctuous sauce or their long, savoury flavour. Some people are beguiled instead by the concentrated but coarser taste of the dried variety. A bit like those who reject vin jaune, they are missing out.

Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais

Chicken with morels


The sauté is my preferred method but poaching the chicken whole in the stock and making pilaf and sauce with the result is a good alternative. This will serve at least four.

1 chicken weighing 1.6kg-1.8kg

½ onion

½ leek

1 clove garlic

Bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf and parsley)

50g unsalted butter

2 shallots

50g-100g fresh morels

½ glass dry sherry

1 glass dry white wine

175ml double cream

Joint the chicken. First remove the legs from the body (taking care to cut the “oyster” piece with the top of the thigh) and then separate the drumsticks from the thighs. Cut off the wingtips and remove the wishbone. Push down on the breast of the chicken on a board. Cut off the wing pieces, taking a good piece of the breast with them and leaving a large rhomboid-shaped breast piece that should be chopped in half, producing eight pieces in all.

Coarsely chop the remaining carcass and put it in a pan of cold water (about a litre and a half). Bring to the boil, skim carefully and then add the sliced onion, leek, garlic and bouquet garni. Turn down the heat and simmer for two hours, skimming occasionally. The liquid should slowly reduce down to a litre but be very clear. Strain it and throw away the bones.

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat a large and heavy sauté or frying pan with a tablespoon of oil and 25g of butter. Add the drumsticks, thighs and wing pieces and let them colour gently. After five minutes add the breast pieces. Turn each piece once it has coloured and turn down the heat so that the chicken can thoroughly cook through.

While the chicken cooks, peel and chop the shallots finely. Trim the feet of the morels and split them in half or even quarters if they are large. Drop the mushrooms into a bowl of cold water and lift out immediately. Repeat the process in successive changes of water until it is perfectly clean. Leave the mushrooms to dry on kitchen paper.

Once cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and keep it warm. Pour out any fat from the pan and return it to the heat. Add a knob of butter and stew the shallots gently until transparent. Add the morels. Once they are tender, lift them out. Pour in the sherry and the wine and scrape up the caramelised juices and reduce the wine to a syrupy consistency. Pour in half the stock (keep the rest for a later use or to make a pilaf to accompany the chicken). Reduce that in turn until there is about 100ml of liquid. Return the morels to the pan and add the cream, swirling the pan around to amalgamate the liquids. Add the chicken pieces, and any juice they may have rendered. Bring briefly back to the boil. Swirl in the last piece of butter, check the seasoning and serve.


Rowley’s drinking choice

Vin jaune is the perfect choice, of course, but there are lesser wines from the Jura, some with the native Savagnin grape, some with Chardonnay, which have the requisite heft to match this unctuous dish.

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