Chicken with morels

Rummaging in my kitchen cupboards last week, I had a very pleasant surprise – I found a pot of dried morel mushrooms which I’d bought last year and forgotten about. Morels are an utterly delicious mushroom, with a honeycomb-textured cap and a subtle and delicate flavour, much less musky than some other wild mushrooms. They can be very expensive, but it’s worth shopping around: I found mine in a shop in Nice last year, where they were cheaper than they are in the UK.

The morel season is short, so you’re most likely to be able to find them dried. (If you see them fresh anywhere, snap them up; a fresh morel is a thing of wonder.) Some people out there take morels very seriously – The Great Morel is just one of a number of websites dedicated to this fabulous little fungus, and is well worth a browse.

I chose to make a chicken dish to show my morels off to their best advantage. You don’t require any complicated spicing here -with the crème fraîche and white wine in the sauce, the morels make this a velvety-rich dish with exceptional flavour. To serve two, you’ll need:

2 plump chicken breasts, with skins
8 large dried morel mushrooms
3 shallots
2 fat cloves garlic
1 glass white wine
100ml water
5 tablespoons home-made chicken stock
3 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche
Juice of half a lemon
1 handful fresh chervil
2 heaped tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Soak the dried morels in 100ml of freshly boiled water for half an hour. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on fresh morels, skip this step, and replace the soaking liquid later in the recipe with chicken stock. (If your morels are not as large as those in the picture above, feel free to use a few more.) Dice the shallots and chop the garlic.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a sauté pan, and heat over a medium flame until the butter starts to bubble. Slide the chicken breasts in, skin side down, and cook for about seven minutes, until the skin is golden. Turn the chicken over and add the diced shallots and the garlic to the oil in the pan. Move the shallots and garlic around in the pan with a spatula until the shallots are turning translucent, then add the morels, reserving their soaking liquid, and continue to sauté for two minutes.

Pour the mushrooms’ soaking liquid (being careful to avoid any gritty bits at the bottom of the bowl) and the wine around the chicken with five tablespoons of home-made chicken stock. The sauce in the pan should simmer – allow it to bubble down and evaporate until you have less than a third of the volume of liquid that you started with. Stir in the crème fraîche and simmer for another minute. The sauce should be glossy. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with the chervil and serve with mashed potatoes, which you can use to mop up the gorgeous sauce, and a green vegetable.