Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The whole chicken and kaboodle

I made something yummy last week. I'm still thinking about it today.


Ever since I taught myself how to cut up a whole poultry (Joy of Cooking, page 422, 1975 edit.), I've rarely gone back to buying individually packaged portions. What I do is more "hacking" than careful carving, but the chicken still turns out into solidly equal portions: two breasts, two thighs, two wings, and neck and back pieces from which to boil broth.

Not for vegetarians, this.

Besides being a good stress reliever (and I find it great fun), hacking up whole chickens is a lot less expensive than buying individually packaged portions of chickens (breasts, thighs, wings, etc). It may be the easy route, but if you have a freezer and the space, I'd say go for the whole chicken the next time you're in the poultry section.

(I think a tutorial for cutting up a whole chicken is in the works for the next blog.)

This dish took inspiration from a chicken and dumplings recipe I gathered during my Craigslist Food Forum posting days. I used to make the C&Ds weekly in Portland, especially during the rainy winter. That's when my whole chicken choppin' skillz really came into effect, as that recipe calls for an three pounds of chicken, bones and all.

Unfortunately, the big, crappy dutch oven pot that I used for the C&Ds is sitting in a box waiting to be shipped to me somewhere, so a smaller dish had to suffice. I do have a decent Cuisinart 3.5-quart saute pan which I like to use as much as I can. It makes me feel country-kitchen-y.

Once I started on the chicken, it was a "grab this, grab that" process in the kitchen--whatever looked good, I threw it in. Conveniently I had just gone to the grocery the night before, so I had some crisp celery and leeks in the veg drawer. Celery will stick around for a week or two, and if it's on the older side, just cut down on the cooking time. Leeks also stay pretty fresh, and carrots and onions will last you forever if you store them right.

Stewed Chicken Thighs
-2 spoonfuls of butter
-olive oil
-2 chicken thighs (I added wings too), washed and patted dry
-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
-1 medium yellow onion, chopped
-3 stalks celery, chopped
-1 leek, thinly sliced
-2 cloves garlic (more if you prefer), sliced
-1 bay leaf
-1/2 t. each: oregano, thyme, marjoram, parsley
-pinch or more cayenne if you want spicy
-salt + pepper
-chicken broth if you have it, water if you don't

Melt the butter in a large saute pan with olive oil to cover the pan. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and wings and saute the pieces in the pan.

Turn the pieces occassionally and saute until golden brown all over. Remove chicken pieces and put them on a plate. They won't be cooked all the way through, just browned and pretty and crispy on the outside. Keeping the heat on medium low, and saute the veggies, garlic and herbs in the same pan until just soft. I usually add the garlic after the onions start to sweat, in order to keep the garlic from burning.

Put the chicken pieces back in the pan with the veggies, and add about 2 cups broth or water; enough to simmer everything and make a nice steam bath when the pan is covered, but not enough to drown the chicken and veg.

Cover the pan, turning the heat to a nice simmer, but making sure not to let the dish get dry. Add more liquid if necessary. Watch an episode of the Simpsons, or catch Patton Oswalt on "King of Queens." The dish is done when the chicken is cooked all the way through, about 30-45 mins.

I served ours over some rice, but you can serve it with potatoes, gnocchi, dumplings, couscous or whatever else strikes your fancy. On an effort scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a 3 - not something I'd make every day, given the chicken-hacking and elbow grease part, but got-damn, that's some deeee-licious chicken!!