Cooking with Mushrooms: Chicken and Walnuts and Baby Bellas, Oh My!

Mireille Johnston

I went wild over the cheap chicken thighs at my local Kroger, dumping package after package into my grocery cart. And as I sniffed the seductive odor of pumpkin pies emanating from the bakery, I composed a menu in my head that shouted “It’s FALL, finally!” Mushrooms, walnuts, shallots joined the chicken in the paper grocery bag and I hurried home, enjoying the sporadic spots of leaf color as I wound my way up the mountain.

Fall is not just for football fans. It’s for cooks, too.

Once I’d laid out everything on the counter, I grabbed Ms. Johnston’s The Cuisine of the Rose and opened the book to “Poulet aux Noix” (Chicken Cooked with Mushrooms, Shallots, Garlic, Walnuts and Vermouth).

Two of Mireille Johnston’s cookbooks sit on a rattan shelf near my kitchen counter: The Cuisine of the Sun: Classical Recipes from Nice and ProvenceThe Cuisine of the Rose: Classical French Cooking from Burgundy and Lyonnais.  Johnston, a French woman who married an American, died in 2000, the day after her 65th birthday. John Whiting wrote a heart-twanging obituary, conveying the regret that I also felt at the time that there’d be no more books from this marvelous cook and scholar (she “wore her Ph.D. as lightly as anyone I have ever met,” according to Whiting).

Yet her presence still permeates my kitchen, like the familiar smell of a loved one’s jacket.

And this is the magic that happened because she married walnut oil with chicken:*

Everything melded together and became this:

Mireille Johnston’s Poulet aux Noix

Serves 8 big eaters (more like 12; I halved the recipe and made a few minor changes)

2 T. walnut or peanut oil
2 cups smoked thick-sliced bacon
4 pounds chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin and fat
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 T. brandy
Thyme sprigs
2 T. vegetable oil
2 T. unsalted butter
3 pounds mushrooms, sliced
2 cups walnut halves
4 shallots, peeled and minced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup minced parsley
1 1/2 cups dry vermouth

Heat the walnut or peanut oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and sauté the bacon for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring it about in the pan to keep it from burning. Remove the bacon and set aside. Dry the chicken pieces quickly with paper towels. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces on both sides and cook them for abut 10 minutes, until lightly golden. Pour off excess oil and save. Pour in the brandy and ignite, being sure to keep your face and hair out of flame’s way. Put chicken in a baking dish. Sprinkle with thyme sprigs,  cover and bake at 350 degrees F 40 minutes or so.

Sauté the mushrooms in the oil and butter in another skillet, add the shallots and garlic and cook until slightly limp, season them, and put in the walnut halves, bacon, and parsley. Add to the chicken. Heat the vermouth for 1 minute in a microwave or warm on top of the stove. Pour the vermouth over the chicken. Cover and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes.

Spoon the chicken into a large shallow dish or platter. Cover lightly with a baking sheet and keep warm. Pour the cooking juices into a large skillet and reduce the sauce until slightly syrupy. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve. Accompany the dish with caramelized butternut squash cubes, green beans sautéed in butter, and fresh whole wheat bread.

*Click on the mosaic to see the original — much clearer and sharper. Flickr doesn’t seem to have an accessible mosaic- maker feature so I had to use another source for that.

© 2010 C. Bertelsen


  1. Believe me, you know his work.

    It’s everywhere, and he single-handedly changed the look of design in America for generations (and he’s interested in food, so had lots of food-related clients).


  2. I use both of these books all the time. Not only are the recipes invariably perfect, but the books’ design and illustrations are by Milton Glaser (who is — or should be considered — a national treasure).

    Just taking these books off the shelf is a pleasure.


  3. Hi Charles,

    Mireille’s book are always a delight, so I hope you enjoy them. Have you heard about the new collection of Elizabeth David’s recipes? It’s out in the UK now and will be out in the US version sometime after the beginning of 2011.


  4. Congrats on writing a book. Enjoyed this post as I collect cookbooks and somehow I missed knowing about Mireille and her books. Ordered them on Amazon. I think this dish here will be the firs one I try.


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