Chicken Thighs and Gnocchi with Smoked Mushrooms and Red Peppers
Though my smoking efforts generally center around a large chunk of meat, lately I’ve begun experimenting with components. For instance, the other week I was smoking a brisket, but knowing it wouldn’t be done in time for dinner, I had a prime rib steak set out for the grill. I was thinking I wanted some kind of mushroom sauce over it, and then I pawed through my refrigerator produce drawers and came up with a couple red bell peppers. That got the wheels spinning.
I ended up punting on the steak that night—it got late, the first gin and tonic morphed into a second, and I think I ended up with a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner—but I did manage to get three pints of various mushrooms and those two gorgeous red peppers into the smoker, and I ended up using them in this lovely dish. Here’s what you’ll need:
The Bacon Maven’s Chicken Thighs and Gnocchi with Smoked Mushrooms and Red Peppers
4 large chicken thighs
1 pint of shitake mushrooms
1 pint of sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 pint of whole oyster or button mushrooms
2 large red bell peppers
1 tablespoon of bacon fat
1 tablespoon of olive oil (preferably rosemary infused)
2 cups of chicken stock (more on hand)
1 16-ounce package of gnocchi (or between two and three cups if you like to hand make these)
10 ounces of fresh baby spinach
1 cup of heavy cream
2 tablespoons of crushed garlic
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Get the mushrooms and peppers smoked first. I left all the mushrooms whole, thought I did trim off the stems from the shitakes, as they can become tough. I then beheaded, deseeded and quartered the red peppers, then distributed them and all the mushrooms on one rack in the smoker, 220 degrees over apple wood for about 90 minutes. The peppers should have lost their vibrant red hue and the skin should be a bit puckered, while the mushrooms should look both a little dried and darker in color, but none of the tray should look like it’s been shrinky-dinked—we’re not dehydrating, merely smoking. Remove from the smoker when done and cool, and you can certainly refrigerate the entire batch for use later. I stashed mine in a sealed plastic container and kept them in the fridge for nearly a week before I came up with this dish.
In a large sauté pan, melt the bacon fat (or butter, or olive oil), add one tablespoon of the crushed garlic, and, when sizzling, lay in your chicken thighs and add a little bit of the chicken stock (you don’t want to poach the thighs, you just want to keep a little moisture in the pan and keep it all from spattering and sputtering all over the place). Make sure to unfold each thigh so that each thigh is as flat and as much in a single layer in the pan as possible. Salt and pepper the upside if you like, let the downside brown, flip, and repeat. Once they’re done, distribute one of the sprigs of rosemary evenly over the top of the cluck, slap a lid on the pan. and move the pan off the heat.
In a larger sauce pan or saucier, heat the rosemary olive oil and the other tablespoon of crushed garlic to barely sizzling. Add in your gnocchi (I used a 16-ounce package of DeLallo brand, which I like, because they are just the right denseness and aren’t too heavy), and brown evenly over a medium burner. Add the leaves from the other sprig of rosemary at about the halfway point, stirring occasionally to get the pillows to a nice color—not a solid brown, you don’t want to turn these into lead fishing weights, just a nice mix of toasty brown and creamy yellow potato.
Once the gnocchi are where you like them color-wise, add in the smoked mushrooms and peppers and about a cup of the chicken stock, stirring to combine and raising the heat a bit on the burner. Take the chicken thighs and give them a good rough chop and add them to the sauce pan, too, along with all the liquid and scrapings in the bottom of the pan. Stir again, adding a bit more chicken stock as necessary to keep the mixture in just a little bit of liquid—not soup, mind you—then add in the heavy cream. Finally, lay the spinach on top (I used all of the big, 10-ounce plastic tub of baby spinach from Organic Girl), put the top on the pan, and let the spinach wilt down, maybe five minutes, then stir it in to the dish to distribute. Ultimately, there should be just enough liquid in the pan between the stock, the cream, and the residual water from the spinach to combine with the starch from the gnocchi, you should end up with a nicely sauced dish, not too loose, not too thick. Serve it up with some thick French bread and you’ve got a filling meal that’s not too heavy, not too light, and one whose smoky highlights impart a richness to what would otherwise be a flavorful, but rather average casserole of sorts.
By the Bacon Maven