Beppi’s Spezzatino di Pollo

My neighbor Beppi’s chicken stew is one of the most aromatic, elegant chicken stews you will ever taste.  With its northern Italian combination of sherry, white wine, rosemary and shallots, it will perfume your kitchen and instantly warm you on a chilly fall day–like today.

I first tried this stew in Beppi’s kitchen about a year ago, and I immediately asked him to let me know when he’d be making it again so I could watch.   I’ve found that it’s imperative to watch certain dishes being made–no recipe does them justice–especially when it comes to dishes made by an old master, like Beppi.  There are certain subtleties that don’t necessarily appear a recipe, but I can usually watch a dish being made and duplicate it pretty faithfully.  I’ll  give you my version of the recipe as accurately as possible.

Chicken thighs are essential for this recipe.  Legs are fine as well, but thighs are meatier.  If you buy your thighs on the bone, you have the added bonus of having the bones to use for stock. Tonight, however, I’m using boneless, skinless thighs and I have some chicken stock already made in my freezer.

Beppi starts out with a curious technique that I’ve seen a lot of older Italian cooks use.  He begins browning the shallots/onions first, then adds the chicken thighs to brown at the same time, rather than browning the chicken, removing it, then browning the aromatics.  As the onions caramelize, the chicken turns slighlty golden, and that’s all the browning you need–no need to brown too deeply–the thighs will turn leathery and stringy.  A light browning, followed by a simmering for an hour, will produce moist, tender chicken that cuts with a fork.

The stew produces a sauce that goes brilliantly over polenta, so that’s what I’ve made this evening–not instant polenta, but long-cooked polenta that perks away for about 2 hours, with frequent stirring.

You could skip the polenta and make rice or pasta, or you can use instant polenta.

This stew is one of those ideal dishes to make for guests, since it reheats beautifully, and is arguably more flavorful the second night than on the night it’s made.  Also if you serve it the second night, you have the added advantage of being able to remove a good deal of the layer of solid fat on top prior to reheating (but don’t remove too much).  To reheat, simply place the stew in a baking dish and warm uncovered at 300 degrees until it’s bubbling and slightly reduced (maybe around a half-hour).

Beppi’s Spezzatino di Pollo

serves 8 persons

4 lbs boneless, skinless thighs

8 shallots, peeled and quartered

1/2 an onion, diced coarsely

4 tbls butter

2 tbls olive oil

2 c white wine

1 c dry sherry

2 sprigs of rosemary

2 c chicken broth

3 tbls flour

1/4 tsp nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy-bottomed dutch oven or skillet, on medium heat, begin browning the shallots and onions with the rosemary sprigs in the butter and oil.

After about 5 minutes, raise heat to high and add chicken pieces.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the flour.

 Add the nutmeg and continue sauteing the chicken and shallots/onions until the mixture begins to brown and turn golden.

Add the wine and sherry and reduce for about 3 minutes.  Add the broth and simmer for about 45 minutes, partially covered.

Serve over polenta, pasta or rice.  May be reheated in a 300-degree oven the next day.

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