If you didn’t already know, May is Oregon Wine Month. With many counties in the state reopening for business as soon as today — wineries and tasting rooms includes — the opportunities to get back out there and enjoy wine are expanding. However, many folks might be wary about jumping into their cars and heading out for a wine road trip just yet. If travel isn’t on your near-future agenda and you still want to support these incredible winemakers, this Pinot Noir-soaked dish is a taste of the Willamette, courtesy of the Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard in the heart of Oregon Wine Country.

The bed and breakfast itself is a nine-room villa perched above 100 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines — plus forest and mountain views, and the Red Hills of Dundee. Served in the dining room each morning, the breakfast menu features fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farms, while the bottle list showcases the best of the Valley to be enjoyed throughout the inn.

With the inn reopening today, Chef Chase Williams offered a glimpse of what he’s excited to cook for guests next.

“I have been working really hard on new pastries and baked good ideas,” Williams says. “I want to start using the spring ingredients that are popping up -— like rhubarb and strawberries — and incorporate them into pastries. A caramelized white chocolate eclair filled with a rhubarb is on my mind.”

And now it’s on our mind, too. Outside of breakfast and sweets, Williams uses the fruits of the valley in a braised chicken recipe as well — Pinot Noir fruit.

“I use Pinot Noir because we are in the Willamette Valley — we have the best of the best here — and it’s what my cellar is stocked with,” he adds. “The acidity in wine helps to tenderize the chicken and adds depth of flavor to what can be considered a ‘bland’ meat… I like the elegant, fruit-forward Oregon Pinots when cooking. It allows the chicken to infuse with flavor without taking over.”

Considering the chicken’s marinade requires half a bottle of Pinot, Williams recommends enjoying the other half while cooking and then opening up something a little special to enjoy with the dish.

“Oregon Pinot Noir and chicken are a great pairing,” he says. “I would like to drink a four- to seven-year-old Willamette Valley Pinot Noir with this dish. Aged enough to have built character in bottle, and still have enough acidity to hold up against a braised meat.”

Pinot Noir-Braised Chicken with Polenta and Spring Vegetables

Serves 2-4

Ingredients for marinade:
2 whole chicken legs (2 thighs, 2 drumsticks)
1/2 bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir
1 large shallot, peeled
1 head garlic
10 sprigs thyme, divided
4 sprigs rosemary, divided
10 black peppercorns

Ingredients for meal:
1/2 pound bacon
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups chicken stock, divided
2 cups milk
1 cup polenta
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 tablespoon chopped parsley
15-20 pearl onion
6 small carrots
1 cup fresh (or frozen) peas
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pour 1/2 bottle Oregon Pinot Noir into a 1-gallon zip-top storage bag. Add the chicken legs, half of the peeled shallot, half of the garlic head, 5 sprigs of thyme, 2 sprigs of rosemary and 10 peppercorns. Remove as much air as possible, seal the bag and refrigerate. Store the remaining shallot, garlic and herbs overnight.

Remove the marinated chicken from the bag, reserving the marinating liquid. Place chicken on a tray and pat very dry. Set aside.

Cut the bacon into 1-inch pieces. In a Dutch oven or large pot with a lid, add the olive oil and bacon, browning the bacon over medium high heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel, reserving oil in the Dutch oven.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and carefully add to the hot pan. (If the chicken is wet it will flare up so be sure to pat it very dry). Work in batches if your pot is too small to fit the chicken in one layer across the bottom. Sear the chicken until both sides are golden brown. Remove the chicken and set aside with the crispy bacon.

Turn the heat off and allow the oil to cool for 3-4 minutes, then pour the wine marinade through a strainer into the pot. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring the wine to a full boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Once reduced, replace seared chicken and bacon in the pot, and add 2 cups chicken stock.

Reduce heat to a lazy simmer, cover and braise for 1 hour. Check on the mixture about halfway through, but not more frequently — you’ll want to keep the lid on to maintain the heat distribution.

Meanwhile, warm a medium pot over medium-low heat. Add in remaining 2 cups of chicken stock, 2 cups milk, the reserved halves of the shallot and garlic and the rest of the rosemary and thyme. Slowly bring to a simmer and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, skim out and discard any solids from the liquid.

Pour in the polenta. Reduce heat to very low and simmer, stirring often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. The mixture should still be slightly loose. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, making sure the polenta does not stick to the bottom or scorch. Add more liquid if necessary while cooking. The polenta is done when the texture is creamy and the individual grains are tender.

Once the polenta is cooked, turn off the heat. Stir in the parmesan and the chopped parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, then cover until ready to serve. Next, while the chicken is still braising and the polenta is resting, prep your vegetables. For pearl onions, cut off each end and peel, leaving them whole. Peel baby carrots and cut in half lengthwise. If using fresh peas, shell to remove the individual peas. Set prepped vegetables aside.

Remove lid to check the amount of braising liquid for the chicken. You want to see it reduced by half from the original amount, with about 2 cups remaining. If too much liquid remains, continue cooking uncovered until reduced to desired volume. If there’s not enough liquid, add water. Once you have the desired level of liquid, add in the onions, carrots, and fresh peas. If using frozen peas, wait to add until the last 5 minutes of cooking. Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes, reducing liquid to about 1 cup. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add in the butter and stir until fully melted and incorporated into the sauce. Add in frozen peas if using and warm them through.

To plate, spoon polenta onto center of each dish. Place the braised chicken on top and arrange the vegetables around the chicken. Spoon sauce over the chicken, serve with a glass of Pinot and enjoy!