Tucson Chicken is a richly sauced chicken and pasta dish suitable for a cool fall weeknight. And no, I didn’t misspell “Tuscan Chicken”. There’s certainly some Italian influence at work here, but this recipe comes to us by way of Arizona chef Janos Wilder and a guest spot on Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee. The James Beard award winner was promoting his 1989 cookbook Janos: Recipes and Tales from a Southwest Restaurant which contains a version of this recipe. Mine is an adaptation of an adaptation, taken from the version Wilder presented on-air, and collected in the 1993 TV tie-in cookbook Cooking with Regis & Kathie Lee.
Wilder was a fixture of the Tucson restaurant scene for nearly forty years and, at the time of his appearance on Live!, something of an up and comer. He opened his first restaurant, Janos, in 1983 and quickly gained acclaim for incorporating traditional indigenous ingredients into an otherwise French-inspired menu. Over the next few decades he grew a ‘mini-empire’ in the Tucson area, winning a James Beard award in 2000, before retiring from the restaurant business in 2020. As of this writing he offers periodic online cooking classes through his website janoscooks.com.
Looking at Wilder’s repertoire and reputation, Tucson Chicken may not be particularly representative of his talents. It’s a wonderful recipe and certainly worth your time, but it lacks the distinct Southwest flair that Wilder is known for.
Tuscon Chicken is, in many ways, a riff on chicken cacciatore. Whole chicken pieces are braised in red wine and tomato sauce, with sauteed mushrooms and aromatics. Don’t be afraid of the heavy dose of garlic: braising tempers the astringent bite but leaves the savory richness intact. The sauce is a little bit on the runny side and pairs best with a ridged pasta: I used spaetzle, but bucatini, penne, or rotini would all work well.
I served Tuscon Chicken to my family on a busy weeknight, without side dishes. There are plenty of vegetables in the sauce so I don’t feel terribly guilty, but if I had it to do over again I’d serve steamed broccoli or a Caesar salad to give the family their greens. Crusty bread would be a welcome accompaniment, but resist the impulse to serve this with Parmesan – it’s just fine on its own. Enjoy!
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 sweet onion (julienned)
- 1 mild red bell pepper (julienned)
- 8 oz white mushrooms (halved)
- 1 cup red wine (divided)
- 4 tbsp chopped garlic
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves (torn)
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 3 plum tomatoes (diced)
- 8 bone-in chicken thighs (skin on)
- Trim excess skin and fat from the chicken thighs. Season the flour liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken thighs in the seasoned flour and set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onion and bell pepper, stirring periodically, until the onion is translucent and the pepper is wilted, taking care not to brown or burn.
- Add the mushrooms, ½ cup of the red wine, along with the garlic and tomato paste. Stir well and cook for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 2-3 tbsp of olive oil a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken thighs in a single layer - working in batches if necessary. Brown for 5-7 minutes on each side until the skin is crisp and the exposed flesh is a deep golden brown.
- Add all of the chicken back to the dutch oven and pour the vegetable mixture over top. Add the basil, then bring to a boil, then simmer 30 minutes covered.
- Add the diced tomatoes and cook another 15 minutes. Serve over a ridged pasta or rice.