a chicken on every stove

Recipes with this adaptable and affordable meat are perfect for autumn’s cooler days.

Eugenia Uhl Photograph

It’s difficult to think of a food more versatile and ubiquitous than chicken. Maybe that’s why we so often take it for granted. Chicken assumes so many roles in our lives that we hardly even notice it. We eat chicken as infant food, invalid food, everyday food, Sunday dinner food, celebratory food. No wonder Herbert Hoover promised “a chicken in every pot.” It was a Depression-era slogan people could taste, with associations that nourished and comforted and provided continuity throughout their lives.

One of chicken’s virtues is its chameleon-like quality, its ability to take on the flavors and characteristics of what it is cooked with. Chicken can emerge from the cooking vessel mild and subtle or strong and aggressive or anything in between — making it, perhaps, the perfect political animal in the kitchen. Chicken can appeal to all segments of the dining public, be they reactionary, conservative, progressive or radical in their culinary leanings.

Consider some of the many and varied faces of chicken. We know it as a soothing soup said to possess healing properties. We celebrate it in a hearty and spicy chicken-and-sausage gumbo, the most iconic of Louisiana dishes. We eat fried chicken as though it constitutes a food group all its own. Roast or baked chicken receives a place of prominence as a special food, while a chicken-and-ham jambalaya is often made from the leftovers. Chicken fricassee, chicken Creole and chicken and dumplings have roots in our cooking that go back generations. Barbecued chicken never goes out of fashion, and grilled chicken, chicken salads and chicken breasts cooked in all manner of ways make regular appearances on our tables.

Even chicken bones, backs, necks and trimmings are treasured for the delicious stock that serves as the basis of a chicken soup or gumbo, a hearty gravy or a subtle sauce. As long as we have some chicken stock in the refrigerator or freezer, we’re secure in knowing we can quickly fix something that will be both nutritious and good to eat.

Chicken has often been the inspiration for songwriters and musicians, and there must be a reason for that, though given the variety of chicken-themed songs, it’s difficult at first glance to divine what that might be. Charlie Parker was so fond of chicken that it earned him the nickname Yardbird, which was then shortened to Bird. Charles Mingus’ rambunctious recording of “Eat That Chicken” leaves no doubt that he loved chicken –– so, too, “8 Piece Box” from the group Southern Culture On The Skids. And Carole King obviously is a chicken fan in her rendition of “Chicken Soup With Rice.” So maybe the explanation is just that simple: People like to eat chicken.

Chicken Creole

1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut up
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dry roux
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup chicken stock or broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Hot sauce to taste
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops
1/4 cup chopped parsley


Season the chicken with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Dredge the chicken in the dry roux, coating thoroughly.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy casserole, and fry the chicken, in batches, until it’s dark brown on all sides. Remove the chicken to a platter. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons of oil. Add the onions, bell pepper and garlic, and cook until softened. Add the tomatoes with juice and the stock or broth. Return the chicken to the pot. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Reduce the heat to low, and cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar. Simmer, turning the chicken occasionally, until it is cooked through and tender, about an hour. Adjust the seasonings, and add the hot sauce, onion tops and parsley. Serve with steamed rice. Serves 4.
 

Chicken Fricassee

1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut up
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dry roux
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups hot chicken stock or broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops
1/4 cup chopped parsley


Season the chicken with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Dredge the chicken in the dry roux, coating thoroughly and reserving the roux for later. Heat the oil in a large, heavy casserole, and fry the chicken, in batches, until it’s dark brown on all sides. Remove the chicken to a platter. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons of oil. Add the onions, bell pepper and garlic, and cook until softened. Add the remainder of the dry roux, and stir. Add the chicken stock, and stir to dissolve the roux. Return the chicken to the pot. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar. Simmer, turning the chicken occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and tender, about an hour. Adjust the seasonings, and add the onion tops and parsley.

Serve with steamed rice. Serves 4.

Roast Chicken With Rosemary and Garlic

It sounds like a lot of garlic, but when cooked this way, the garlic mellows and becomes almost sweet. Roast potatoes are a good accompaniment.

1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut up
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary, slightly crushed
24 garlic cloves, peeled


Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Oil a roasting pan. Scatter the rosemary and garlic cloves on the bottom; place the chicken pieces on top. Roast until the chicken is browned and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Serves 4.


Chicken and Dumplings

There are about as many versions of this old Southern standby as there are cooks. Some renditions are soupy, while others have a thick sauce. Dumplings also vary from biscuit-like to flat. I even found a recipe in an old Louisiana cookbook for chicken and dumplings made with a brown gravy.

1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut up
1 large onion, quartered
2 stalks celery with leaves
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped parsley

For dumplings:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter
3/4 cup milk


Place the chicken, onion, celery, bay leaf and thyme in a large pot. Add enough water to cover, and bring to a boil.

Skim the surface, and then reduce the heat, and cover. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about an hour.

Remove the chicken from the pot, and strain the cooking liquid. Return the liquid to the pot, and boil until it’s reduced to about 7 cups. Mix the flour with 1/2 cup of water, add this mixture to the pot, and cook at a simmer. Remove the cooked chicken from the bones, and chop it into bite-size pieces. Add the chicken back to the pot, and season with salt and black pepper. Let it simmer while making dumplings.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Work in the butter with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture is mealy. Add the milk, and mix. Form the dough into a ball, and knead it a couple of times. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into squares or rounds. Bring the chicken and sauce to a boil, and drop the dumplings into the pot. Cover, and simmer until the dumplings are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serves 4-6.

 

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