In our ongoing quest to resurrect interest in under-appreciated vegetables, I present this week’s subject: the leek.
We don’t get too excited about leeks in the U.S. but we should. They’re healthy, easy to grow*, cheap to buy, and best of all, really tasty.
* Theoretically, and according to rumors I read on the internet. Matt and I, conversely, have zero luck growing leeks. Nada. Zilch. They sprout beautifully but then … nothing. They turn spindly and never really get very big. They end up more like thick scallions. It’s quite rude of them if you think about it, because here I am telling the world (our 5 readers, anyway, hello there *waves*) how great leeks are and they can’t even be bothered to make an effort in the garden. Oh well. It’s broccoli rabe this year, I’m telling you.
This dish was inspired by one we had on our (long-ago) trip to France. We stayed in a sweet little B&B in the mountains and they offered dinner that night for guests. We were served a beautifully rustic creamy chicken stew filled with leeks (just pulled from their garden, of course, oh yes, THEIR leeks behaved themselves). There were a few mushrooms in it, some wine, a little garlic. Plenty of je ne sais quoi. (Might have been thyme.)
It was so simple but so good, I’ve been making versions of it ever since. I change it up a lot, depending on what I have on hand, but it’s always delicious. This time I added spinach but you could do the same with chard or kale. Or leave the greens out entirely. It’s hard to go wrong.
Note: we used boneless, skinless thighs this time but breasts would also be good. I sometimes use a whole, cut up chicken, skin-on. The trick with that is to brown the skin really well and then nestle the pieces back, keeping the skin exposed so it stays crispy. Yup, it’s as good as it sounds.
We had some pre-boiled potatoes on hand to crisp up for ten minutes in a pan with a combination of olive oil and ghee (clarified butter), but you could very well use a good, oven-warmed baguette or similar crispy-type bread as a side.
- Leeks tend to be very dirty so wash their little mouths out with soap! Ha, just kidding. Really though, they’re sandy little buggers. To make sure they’re clean, I slice them, then place them in a large bowl of cold water and swish them around, separating the rings a bit with your fingers. A salad spinner works great for this because it’s easy to change the water as many times as needed.
- When cooking with wine, don’t break the bank but use a wine you would drink. We can usually find a decent bottle for under $10 (Who am I kidding, we drink $7 wine all the time). Any decent Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc will work.
- Don’t wash chicken! Just dry it well and cook it to the proper temperature.
- If using large spinach leaves (not baby), you might want to wilt them down and squeeze out the liquid before adding them to the sauce. Same with frozen.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4-6 small chicken breasts or thighs (we used skinless-boneless thighs)
- 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, thoroughly washed and sliced into ¼ inch rounds
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups crimini or button mushrooms, sliced (9oz, 250g)
- 4 cups baby spinach (5oz, 150g), washed
- 1½ teaspoons fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest (approx. one lemon)
- ⅔ cup dry white wine (we used Sauvignon Blanc) (150ml)
- 1 cup low sodium chicken stock, (250ml)
- 1 cup heavy cream (200ml)
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Dry the chicken well and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Pre-heat a large, heavy skillet on a medium-high flame and then add olive oil. Add the chicken in a single layer, (skin-side down, if skin-on) and cook until deep golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. Flip and lightly brown the other side, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.
- Add the mushrooms and let them cook on one side without stirring until they're deep brown and caramelized on one side, about 5 minutes. Toss the mushrooms and add leeks to the pan and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Add the wine and let it reduce down by half and then add the lemon zest, thyme, mustard, chicken stock and cream. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through, 15-25 minutes, depending on thickness. If using skinless chicken, turn pieces in the sauce a few times while cooking to keep it moist). Check the liquid level a few times while cooking and add more stock as necessary. When chicken is cooked through (registers 165ºF on an instant read thermometer), remove it to a platter. Stir in the spinach until just wilted, check seasoning and spoon sauce over chicken.