October 22, 2015

Blog the Thirty-second: Chicken braised with Sausage & Mushrooms

A chicken braise worthy a gentile.

Okay, okay, so maybe there was some Italic hyperbole in my saying that my Gentile friends are not worthy of my most delicious chicken braises.  As a matter of fact, I often make them the most delicious one of all, chicken braised with sausage and mushrooms.  I make it for select Gentiles as often as I get Italian sausage from Brooklyn—Bensonhurst being the only place I know to get fatty Italian sausage without fennel—and  when I make a big fuss over the honor I do them by sharing my Brooklyn sausage with them, they get that.  Then when they taste how delicious those mushrooms are soused with all the savors of the braise, they get that too.  And they even know without instruction to sop up that pan sauce with crusty bread.  Yes, they get all that, on their own, and are enjoying themselves too well to think up any condescending compliments.  Their joy is pure and so my joy complete.

I don’t have a charming name or story for this dish because my mother sort of made it up.  She ate something like it at a wedding once, liked it, improvised her own version at home, tweaked it over time, taught it to me, who tweaked it some more, and the story of all this offers insight into the spirit of our cooking.  We like our food tasty rather than fancy; friendly rather than sophisticated; light rather than complex; effusive rather than concentrated; pure rather than distilled.  This braise  is a paradigmatic example, in that it goes against many rules of the gourmet for enhancing and concentrating flavor, in favor of lightness, cleanness, and harmony.

For one thing, it uses white rather than dark mushrooms.  I’d go so far as to say its genius is in its use of plain white mushrooms.  You might well figure that a braise would be all the more delicious with dark Baby Bella, or fancier yet, Crimini mushrooms—no doubt the choice of a Tuscan or Frenchman, who will wryly remark with a confidential tone and bemused frown on the ingenuousness of our using white button mushrooms.  Ah, proud mushrooms for proud men, overweening, overbearing, prepossessing, bent on infiltrating and dominating.  Might as well just call it a mushroom braise, because that’s all it will taste like with those dark ones.

But we know that it is the meek that shall inherit the earth.  It is precisely the self-abnegation of the white mushroom that gives it another sort of power, an unprepossessing power of assimilation.  It gets its glory from another, as does the moon from the sun, reflecting and refracting the other’s light with a beauty all its own.  All that its spongy flesh absorbs this mushroom mingles in its womb—the savoriness of chicken and sausage gilded in olive oil and butter, the redolence of much garlic, tangy sprites of tomato, the fresh perfumes of green parsley and white wine—each savor shining more glorious in spectral array than ever in proud isolation.  It is its very translucency that gives the white mushroom this its power of transfiguration, and it arises arrayed glorious by its service.