A CHICKEN (AND MORE) IN EVERY POT

Pot cooking cozies up to cooler weather and invites the weary to kick back with comfort food that we all love. What a deal it is to save money and dine well, too!

EUGENIA UHL PHOTOGRAPH

Coming off a rec-ession, we might want to cook as our forebears did and save a few pennies at the grocery store. Pot cooking was the technique by which our 19th- and 20th-century ancestors fed many mouths from one pot. Instead of two pieces of chicken per person, as we might eat today, one piece could feed two persons when cooked in a roux and served over rice. A pound of beans might satisfy a half-dozen hungry mouths while a soup bone could stretch a few vegetables into dinner.

I think good things often come from bad, much like bright new growth where Hurricane Katrina damage once festered. And there’s nothing like a plunging 401K to tighten your budget and sidetrack your shopping. A return to frugality has me shopping for sales. I recently bought three chickens for 77 cents a pound, and a steak sale caught my eye with T-bones at half price. Fresh produce in season is always the best buy, so I keep a ready supply of that in my refrigerator. Sometimes, my husband and I get overly ambitious and buy too much at the market. Then we have to cook until we drop to make sure nothing spoils.

Pot cooking cozies up to cooler weather and invites the weary to kick back with comfort food that we all love. What a deal it is to save money and dine well, too!

My favorite pot dishes are chicken fricassee; beans (red, white, limas or black) over rice; chicken and dumplings; and round steak in gravy over noodles. I love to cook them when family is around, but I don’t hesitate when only two of us are eating. It is simple enough to freeze a couple extra meals for nights that are too busy to cook.

When I was a student at Ole Miss, I’d often take friends home to Memphis for the weekend. My mother always asked ahead of time what we wanted to eat, and one friend in particular and I always requested “a pot.” It didn’t matter what was in it. Sometimes a whole chicken would be surrounded with carrots, noodles and lima beans. A roast was often saddled with potatoes, onions and carrots. I think we loved it so much because we’d had enough hamburgers from the Ole Miss drive-in and our bodies needed some good home cooking.

In New Orleans, I’ve come to love beef daube, a slow-cooked Italian version of beef roast served over spaghetti; and gumbos, of course, which are my most commonly cooked pot dishes. I do most of my pot cooking on the stovetop, although some cooks prefer sliding the pot into the oven after browning the meats. Either way, it’s easy enough to cook a whole meal in one pot, and clean up is even easier.

After the holidays I’m ready to relax a little and draw on some of those extras we packaged for the freezer. Chicken fricassee sounds good; or maybe a nice pot roast. Yes, it’s time to light a fire, get out a good book and enjoy a hearty winter meal.

CHICKEN FRICASSEE
1 chicken, cut into pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Flour for dredging, about 1 cup
1/2 cup oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Water, about 2 cups
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley


Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and dredge them in flour, shaking off excess. Heat oil in heavy pot and brown chicken well on all sides. Once the pieces are browned, remove them to paper towels. Sauté onion and celery until wilted and then garlic for a minute or so. Add water, stirring well, and bay leaves, cayenne pepper and thyme. Return chicken to pot, cover and simmer over low heat until chicken is tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn chicken at least once during cooking. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper if needed, and remove bay leaves. Skim excess fat from surface. Stir in parsley. Serve over rice.

Serves 4 to 6.

POT ROAST WITH VEGETABLES
1 3 to 4-pound rump roast
2 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
Salt and freshly ground black   
      pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 medium potatoes, cut into
      large chunks
4 carrots, cut into thirds
1/3 cup flour


Cut slits in roast about 1 inch deep with a sharp, narrow knife. Stuff garlic slivers into slits and pull meat back together over each sliver. Make slits about 2 inches apart on all sides of roast. Sprinkle roast liberally with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in large, heavy pot. Over medium-high heat, brown roast on all sides. Reduce heat and top fat side of roast with chopped onions. Sprinkle with Worcestershire. Cover and simmer roast over low heat for about 1 hour. After the first 1/2 hour, check to make sure juices are covering the bottom of the pot. If not, add a little water.

After the first hour, turn roast over, spooning onions on top. At this point, add about 1 cup of water and place vegetables around roast. Salt and pepper vegetables. Cover again and simmer until roast is tender and vegetables are done, about 1 more hour. Spoon juices over vegetables midway through cooking.

Remove roast and vegetables from the pot. Mix flour with enough water to make a thin paste. Stir until lumps are dissolved. With pot over low heat, stir in flour mixture and simmer until gravy thickens. If too thick, add more water until desired consistency is reached. Return roast and vegetables to pot. Roast can be sliced at this point or when served. Serve hot on a platter with slices of roast in the center and vegetables on both sides. Serve gravy in a gravy boat and rice if desired.

Serves 6 to 8.

CHICKEN IN A POT
1 chicken
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, cut in fourths
2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
3 carrots, cut into thirds
8 ounces frozen Fordhook
      lima beans
8 ounces egg noodles
1 tablespoon butter


Rinse chicken and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper inside and out. Place in a large, heavy pot and cover with water. Add a little more salt and pepper to the water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. After about 10 minutes, skim the top of the water. Add onion and celery and cook for about 20 minutes.

Add carrots and lima beans to the pot and simmer another 15 minutes. Turn heat up a little, add noodles and cook until done, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings and add butter.

To serve, remove and slice chicken. Serve vegetables and noodles from the pot or in a serving bowl.

Serves 4 to 6.

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