Tomato-Wine Braised Chicken and Mushrooms

Need a last-minute Passover main (or just a delicious dinner)? I've got you!

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It is go time, friends. Passover go time, that is. In T-minus 10 days, the wine bottles will get popped, the matzo balls simmered, the matzo toffee made and immediately devoured, and - whether super small and indoors (looking at you lucky vaccinated people!), outside and distanced on a friend’s deck, or virtually over Zoom (again) - the seders will arrive, kicking off the holiday.

Last year’s Passover, for many of us, arrived with a whirlwind of grief, stress, and longing. We missed our loved ones. We panic bought our matzo online. We slowly allowed ourselves to accept that this pandemic was probably going to last months instead of days or weeks. (Haha, make that a year and counting.) Some of us dug in and made traditional seder meals, because doing anything else felt too disorienting. Some of us said, “whatever,” and ate matzo with smashed avocado in our pajamas. Both approaches were exactly right.

This year, things feel different. Celebrating a second pandemic Passover is still. very. hard. But by now we know how to holiday in the midst of an ongoing crisis. We know how to find moments of joy, while acknowledging the unimaginable pain the last year has brought. And we have learned to curate our menus to match our diminished guest lists - or at least how to properly freeze leftovers. Meanwhile, with vaccinations on the rise and the first cherry blossoms replacing last month’s snowstorms, there is finally a little space amidst the grief for dreaming and hope.

Maybe by now your seder menu is set, your shopping and to-do lists are prepped, and you have your stash of kosher wine in the closet. If not, well then welcome to the club! But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with this simple but impactful braised chicken dish.

Inspired by chicken cacciatore, this dish is lovable in nearly any context. It’s saucy and bright with tender chicken, a generous glug of red wine enriching the tomato sauce, and a hint of spring-y flavor from the fresh thyme. It would add a pop of color to your seder dinner. And if you are planning a solo or tiny seder, the leftovers are even better the next day. Meanwhile, if you prefer to bookmark the recipe for another time, it is also special (and simple!) enough to make for Shabbat or Sunday dinner any time.

In lieu of the egg noodles or crusty bread you might use to sop up the rich gravy the rest of the year, you can serve this dish with mashed or roasted potatoes on Passover. A pile of fluffy quinoa would not be out of place either. However and wherever you are celebrating this year, I wish you good health, moments of connection, and lots of delicious sauce.

Tomato-Wine Braised Chicken and Mushrooms

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, patted dry with paper towels 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large onion, halved through the root and thinly sliced

8 oz cremini mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/3 cup dry red wine

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, with their juice

3 thyme sprigs, plus more for topping

Chopped fresh parsley, for topping, optional

  1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or other large saucepan set over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. Working in batches, place the chicken, skin-side down, in the oil and cook, flipping once, until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Set the browned chicken pieces on a large plate while finishing the rest.

  2. If the pan looks dry after browning the chicken, add a drizzle of oil. (Alternately, if a lot of fat gets rendered during browning, pour out all but about 2 tablespoons.) Add the onion, mushrooms, and garlic to the pan; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in the onion powder, red pepper flakes, if using, tomato paste, and brown sugar, followed by the wine, tomatoes, thyme sprigs, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

  3. Return the browned chicken pieces and any juices accumulated on the plate to the pan (it is okay if the chicken isn’t fully submerged); raise heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, basting the chicken occasionally with the sauce, until the chicken is cooked through and very tender, about 50 minutes.

  4. Remove the chicken pieces and arrange on a serving plate. Increase heat under the pan to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Spoon the sauce over and around the chicken and top with a few additional thyme sprigs and chopped parsley, if desired.

2 things I’m loving this week.

This NY Times article about the choices black women and families are making around childbirth. I already knew that black mothers in the United States are four times as likely to die from childbirth-related issues as white mothers. But I learned a lot about the various ways families are seeking out safer and more empowering birthing experiences. The photos are also quite moving.

Ramblin’ Jack ElliotAfter reading a lovely article about Elliot Charles Adnopoz - a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who became a roving cowboy troubadour (and Bob Dylan’s mentor) - I ordered one of his records on Etsy. I’ve been singing Sadie Brown ever since. Also, get yourself a friend that looks at you the way Pete Seeger looks at Ramblin’ Jack while he sings.