Steps to a Rich Chicken Stew

Chicken can be a boring food. Depending on what part of the chicken you use, and how you cook it, the bird is right up there with lettuce average, boring, dull.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the perfect example of this, and it shocks me that people pay such a premium for these at the grocery store. It astounds me that instead of purchasing a whole chicken for, say, six dollars, people will happily pay four or five dollars for a package of chicken breasts.

Chicken breasts dry out easily, have little flavor, and most recipes call for intense seasonings or sauces to give it some taste. But it does not have to be that way. The reason people say so many foods "taste like chicken" is because they spend most of their time cooking chicken trying to make it taste like something else. It's relatively easy to impart flavor to a chicken dish the meat will accept whatever herbs or sauces or spices you give it.

What is more difficult, but worth doing, is to make chicken taste more like chicken.

When chicken is done right, when the flavors are intense and rich, it's a food that takes me back to my childhood, that comforts, that envelops my senses. When chicken is cooked poorly, at best it's bland and boring and at worst it's dry and almost inedible.

The secret, really, is to utilize the chicken, to not waste it, to love the chicken, and to try and make that chicken taste more like chicken than even the chicken itself ever thought possible.

I made chicken stew yesterday. It was an all-day process, but absolutely worth it. The final dish was rich and comforting, and served on brown rice it was the perfect food for a cold night. Anyone can make a chicken stew or soup it's some simple variation of: cook vegetables, cook chicken, add chicken broth, simmer and serve. But to make the dish so that it is intense and warming involves the same steps, but with more detail.

A few tips to making a great chicken stew:

First, buy the whole chicken. It's the cheapest way to get the most out of it, and the fastest way to really learn how to cook it. If you traditionally only enjoy breast meat, or thighs, or buy chicken stock rather than making your own, think of it this way: when you buy the whole chicken you're buying whatever cut you like most, and getting the rest for free.

Break down the bird, removing the thighs, drumsticks, breasts and wings. Throw the remaining bones in a pot of water, add aromatics, simmer for several hours. You now have a pot of stock that otherwise would cost several dollars, and this is with none of the annoying salt or chemicals added to most supermarket brands.

Remove the chicken carcass from the pot, and pick the remaining meat off. No matter how adept you get at fabricating a chicken, there will always be meat left on the chicken. Do not waste it.

Skim the impurities from your chicken stock as it simmers, then strain and chill. The chicken fat will congeal on top of the liquid skim this off and keep it.

Season and brown the chicken pieces you will use in your stew using the chicken fat. Michel Richard in his book "Happy in the Kitchen" talks about using chicken fat to sear steaks, saying it gives them a meatier, richer flavor. It works well here also, and with each step of the process little details like this are intensifying the chicken flavor.

After your meat is browned, I place it in an aluminium foil package with some red wine and chicken stock and braise it for several hours at a low temperature, say 250 degrees or so. When it's done, you should be able to pull the meat apart with a fork.

Cook your vegetables in chicken fat as well same reason here: we want to use the chicken in every step of this dish. It makes a difference, as opposed to using olive oil, canola or even butter. What we're trying to do is create a dish that has depth, layering chicken on top of chicken.

I like to use some black beans in my stews, and some diced tomatoes. I do use canned beans and tomatoes (when out of season), but drain the liquid from the cans first. Then add the shredded chicken and chicken stock to your pot, and allow to simmer. You can add more stock that you really need and allow it to reduce, which will only intensify the flavors.

The end result is a dish that is simple but which requires time and patience. I think this is the heart of rustic cooking, really. Nothing here is complicated, nothing difficult, nothing requiring classical technique or crazy methods. It just requires a little time and a desire to produce a stew that tastes, above all else, richly of chicken.

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Posted in Moving and Relocating Post Date 08/20/2015


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