Chicken Sherry (No Extinguisher Req’d.)

30 Aug

For those of you who are fans of the book Julie & Julia or the movie adaptation by the same name, you will no doubt be familiar with Julia’s dish featuring chicken in a mushroom cream sauce.  “Don’t crowd the mushrooms!” Amy Adams exclaims as she gently stirs the bubbling pan on the stove top.

Well, I don’t know from crowding mushrooms on the stove top, because a very similar (looking) dish from my mom’s recipe box called for the mushrooms to be simply tossed into a pyrex dish, drowned in sauce, and baked for about 40 minutes.  If they were crowded, the mushrooms never told me.  In all seriousness, the minute we saw this dish in the movie, Dan and I agreed we had to check it out.  It isn’t in the later Julia Child cookbook we own, so I had to scan online to find it (because my own mom’s Julia Child cookbook is not immediately available).  I think this is it right here.

I’m intrigued by this recipe because it uses port instead of sherry and, of course, has not a single healthy attribute.  I’m quite sure, when we make it, this dish will knock our socks off.  However, it does call for igniting cognac and “averting your face,” not to mention the roasting of an entire chicken (something we do, but don’t always find easy, and a task which my mother openly admits is too much for her) and lots of other high maintenance steps.  Note the repeat of the key instructions “set aside.” You can bet this will make a mess…even before the cognac inferno ignites.

For all I know, the chicken and sherry I loved for so many years is a culinary abomination.  When you read the ingredient list, the dirtiest secret of all will pop right out at you.  Having only a small amount of shame, however, I will share it here, because every time we said “Mom, what’s for dinner,” and she said “Chicken and Sherry,” my brother and I were always excited.  I make it regularly to this day.

First, I will give you the unadulterated 1970’s version of chicken with sherry cream sauce.

Chicken with Sherry Cream Sauce and Mushrooms

1 stick of butter

8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderized

note: this is when chickens were smaller.  I’d stick with 4 breasts.



2 cans cream of mushroom soup

fresh sliced mushrooms (I use about 8oz. – a full, small package)

1 C chicken broth (I have often used reconstituted bouillon cubes)

1/4 C sherry (dry – cooking sherry is fine.  NOT CREAM SHERRY)

Melt butter in oven in a 9×13 pyrex dish.  Pepper and paprika (generously) chicken breasts.  Brown chicken by roasting in the melted butter in oven for 15 min. at 400 degrees.  Turn the chicken over halfway through to get both sides.  I highly recommend opening windows and putting fans on – or at least turning off your smoke detector.  It’s hard to keep this from smoking! Meanwhile, empty mushroom soup into a saucepan, heat, and dilute with chicken broth and sherry.  Whisk it to make it smooth.  Lay the mushrooms on top of all the chicken when it comes out of the oven.  Keep your kids away – the butter tends to spit when it’s this hot.   Pour sauce over the browned chicken.  Cook at 350 degrees for 40 min. Serve over rice.

Now, over the years, I have tried in different ways to make this less fattening.  One way is by using lower fat mushroom soup (avoid low sodium, though , because it yields an unacceptably tasteless dish).  This works, but you’ll want to thicken the sauce, then, with a low-fat sour cream or even fat free.  So it starts to push your tolerance for “fake” food.  The other thing I’ve tried is cutting the browning butter in half.  It’s still pretty good, but there is some taste compromise.  The less butter you use, the blander the dish turns out.  Dieting sucks.

One great thing about this dish is that it freezes really well!  Just as you would with the goulash, you can pack away the sauce and chicken and defrost during the week to put over fresh rice.  You might like it so well that you will decide to double everything, use two pyrex dishes, and then freeze more than half of it.  I often do that.

When it comes to pantry stocking, it is possible to make this with very little notice.  If you regularly keep frozen chicken breasts and make sure you never run out of rice, bouillon cubes, and mushroom soup, you can even make it without the fresh mushrooms and be fine.  Whenever I have served this, plates have been cleaned.  Dan loves it.  Even my college friends loved it when I made it for them on special occasions in the Watson Kitchen at Carleton College.

So there you have it.  Chicken and Sherry without airs.  I do plan to try the Julia version soon.  The thing is, as we all know, a recipe is only useful if you can actually find the time and resources to MAKE it.  Having a hot, satisfying dinner on the table for your family has value in itself, right?  Otherwise, why would I have such great memories of my childhood dinners?  I’m glad my mom wasn’t too cool for mushroom soup.


6 Responses to “Chicken Sherry (No Extinguisher Req’d.)”

  1. Rachel Roland August 30, 2010 at 8:42 am #

    Yum! (on another note, isn’t it sad and kind of gross that chickens are freakishly double the size they were in the 70’s??)

    • frazzledfoodie August 30, 2010 at 9:12 am #

      Yeah – I know you’ve seen Food, Inc., so I’m sure you know why. Another thing I’ve learned (this from America’s Test Kitchens) is that modern roasting chickens shouldn’t cook as long as the roasting chickens from Julia Child’s era (this regarding Coq au vin and its length of preparation) because they are younger and more tender. Julia Child’s chicken would have been more on the old-and-tough side. Interesting. So it actually makes Coq au vin more accessible to modern cooks.

  2. Alma Balistreri August 31, 2010 at 12:34 am #

    I’m so excited to read your blog. Lenny’s been on a strict weight loss regimen for the past 4 months which has pretty much ended my cooking aspirations. Its just no fun to cook for one while my husband eats a salad. Your blog will give me a reason to get back in the kitchen. What the heck – I’ll invite my sisters over. They’re not afraid to eat 🙂 I remember your mom’s cooking fondly. Remember when I asked her how she made her pasta sauce? Prego or Ragu (I don’t remember which one). Believe it or not, before then, we never had bottled pasta sauce. In the Carpio home, we had a bastardized filipino version with hot dogs, sugar, and absolutely nothing that resembled tomatoes. Luckily, though, we did eat it with pasta noodles and not the filipino standard starch – rice.

    • frazzledfoodie August 31, 2010 at 8:36 am #

      Alma – I have zero recollection of you eating bottled pasta sauce at my house, but I can tell you that, embarrassingly, my friend Kristin most recalls that our house is the first place she at cream of mushroom soup. Too funny! You’ve inspired me, actually, to do a post about how we make pasta sauce now at home. We don’t use a jar very often, but we also don’t go down to fresh tomatoes, so it’s a good midway and great for Lenny’s weight loss. More on that soon…

  3. Beth Sutinis February 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    Alicia, do you have an opinion on how long sherry will last on the shelf? I’d like to make your recipe, but my bottle of sherry is 4 or 5 years old (half gone) and I’d love to get away with not buying another one, since clearly I neither drink enough sherry or cook enough with it to warrant buying more.

    • frazzledfoodie February 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

      Honestly, Beth, I have never thrown out sherry. I am not an expert on that topic, but I would use it…I mean, we’re talking cooking sherry. Incidentally, I recently adapted this recipe to pork chops and it’s fantastic. I’m planning to blog it soon.

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