Wood Tavern is my local. My wife and I call it our “formal dining room” as the restaurant sits just down the hill and we eat there with embarrassing regularity. At their first restaurant, Frascati, Rich and Rebekah Wood discovered a formula for delivering deep, satisfying flavors that they perfected at their new outpost, Wood Tavern, in Oakland, CA. Regardless of whether the dish is a pan-seared halibut or a sumptuous pork chop, it is the best version of that dish you have ever tried.
As part of my job I eat at many of the best restaurants in the country. When I do, I rarely order chicken. I feel I can cook chicken at home, and my mom’s recipe of roasted chicken with thyme and garlic can not be surpassed. Further, if I am going to pay someone else to cook for me, I want something I have never seen or would never take the time to do. So I pretty much eat only fried chicken or some riff on stuffed poussin when I order chicken. Pan-seared chicken? I know what that will taste like. Yawn. And then someone told me I had to try Wood Tavern’s chicken. C’mon, the chicken? Instead of the pork belly in lentils or the duck confit? Holy moley, it is the best chicken I have ever put in my mouth, bar none. And, even better, I can cook it at home and achieve almost the same dizzying result. And, now, so can you.—Andy Peay
Total prep & cooking time: 1 hour
4 whole free-range chicken legs including thighs
1 1/2 quarts home-made (or very high quality) chicken stock
2 medium carrots
4 green spring onions
8 fingerling or small creamer potatoes, any color
8-10 cloves of garlic
3/4 lbs mushrooms—preferably chanterelle, sliced
Rock salt and fresh ground pepper
Stick of butter
Canola or other high heat oil
1/2 cup inexpensive crisp white wine
1 bottle of Peay Chardonnay 😉
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the chicken stock in a sauce pan over high heat and reduce to 5 tablespoons. It will take 40-50 minutes and can be done on a spare burner while you follow the rest of the steps.
Cut 2 carrots into 2-3 inch lengths and then into halves or quarters. Cut the roots off the ends of the green onions and leave 3 inches of the light green stalks attached. Halve lengthwise or leave whole. Rinse potatoes and halve or leave whole as desired. Peel and cut garlic cloves in halves.
Rinse and pat dry the leg/thigh. Liberally season on both sides with salt and pepper. Pour 2 tablespoons canola or other high heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add more salt and pepper to the pan. When the oil is hot, place the chicken in the pan and brown on both sides pressing down on the chicken with a small lid to achieve a crisp brown layer across the top and bottom. Repeat until all are browned.
If you are only cooking 2 legs/thighs, remove the pan from the flame and deglaze the pan with a few tablespoons of white wine. If you are cooking more than you can fit comfortably in the pan leaving room for the vegetables (like the 4 suggested in this recipe), transfer the chicken to a roasting pan and after deglazing the pan, add the pan juice to the roasting pan.
In the large sauté pan, reheat the oil. Add potatoes, julienned carrots, green onions and garlic and cook for 5 minutes to soften. Add the chicken, 1/4 cup of stock and 1/4 cup of white wine to the pan. Place pan in the oven.
Check on the pan from time to time to turn the vegetables over so they carmelize, add more stock to avoid burning, if necessary. Baste chicken. The chicken’s finished temperature should be about 150 degrees though I often use a knife to cut to the bone to be sure there is no pink flesh. Remember: the chicken will coast after you remove it from the oven and likely will rise another 5-10 degrees during that time. So, be careful not to overcook!
While the chicken cooks, sauté the mushrooms in butter over medium heat. I prefer chanterelles for this dish but they can be hard to find. You can also use trumpets or the small, whole mushrooms often sold in package. Brown mushrooms will work in a pinch.
When the chicken is done—about 30 total minutes- it should be juicy and moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. Remove the chicken from the pan and deglaze with a splash of white wine. Add the reduced stock and mushrooms to the pan and turn off the heat or turn to very low if you have that setting.
Add butter one or two pats at a time and stir against the bottom of the pan to slowly melt. Continue until you feel the sauce has achieved the level of decadence you can live with. Place the chicken on a plate and pour the vegetables and sauce around it. Open a bottle of Peay Chardonnay and feast.