Friday, December 18, 2009

Chicken in a pot

It seems like most of the major culinary styles do some kind of one dish, chicken based thick stew or soup. Chicken in a pot is our generic term for these. It is usually subtitled with a flavor profile. So we have "Chicken in  a pot - Mexican", "Chicken in a pot - North African", etc. I use the same essential technique, basically the same ingredients and adjust the flavoring, spicing, legumes and garnishes to adapt the basic dish to the style. This is not a dish of any great subteltly - it's job is to provide a warming dish for cold winter evenings. Because it is so "in your face", minor regional variations are not present. So, for example in today's version I have made no attempt to distinguish among the various North African cuisines - have just lumped them together into this single dish.
So, here are some of the key philosophies.

  • Use chicken thighs - they stand the longish cooking better than white meat

  • Make sure that the legumes you are using will get to the desired consistency in about 30 minutes

  • Use a sausage that matches the region (Mergez if yoiu can find it for North Africa, Chorizo for Mexican, etc.). Although, in a pinch a nice kielbasa can be used for everything!

  • Drain the fat early, and skim at the end

  • Make sure you sanitize the equipment that has been in contact with the raw chicken.

Apart from the chicken stock which was still defrosting, here is the collection of ingredients for this North African variety. The board on which the chicken thighs are laying is only used for raw meat, and will be sanitized in a bleach solution after use.

2T Vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs smoky sausage (kielbasa in this version) cut into 1/2 " thick slices
4 Chicken thighs, salted and peppered on both sides
2 Dry chipotle peppers (I know, not North African, but do add a nice smoky heat)
8 Cardomom pods
1 t whole coriander
1 2" piece of cinnamon bark
8 Cloves
2 Star anise
1t Cumin
2T Paprika
2 Medium onions peeled and chopped pole to pole
1 Head of celery
6 Large carrots sliced into 1 inch knobs
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) chicken stock
3 14 oz cans garbanzo beans - rinsed and drained
Salt/pepper to taste

Heat the oil to shimmering point in a large dutch oven. Add the sliced kielbasa and fry gently until the sausage takes on some color. This will take about 5 minutes.
Remove the sausage from the pan, and turn up the heat until you get wispy smoking. Lay the chicken thighs skin side down the oil, and cook until well browned (about 7 minutes).

While the thighs are browning, chothe onion in slices pole to pole, skice the celery. I don't bother to pull the ribs apart - just slice through the whole head. This is a rustic presentation after all.

Turn the chicken thighs over and cook on the meat side until browned - about 4 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, clean up the meat board, tongs, etc. using  mild bleach solution.

Remove the chicken from the dutch oven and allow to rest - with the sausage. Pour off all but 2T of the chicken fat. I use a small bowl with a foil insert. The fat is caught in the foil, solidifies when cold and you can throw the whole thing away. Do not pour the fat down the drain!

Finely grind the cardomom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, star anise, and coriander seeds. Add these to the hot oil in the dutch oven, along with the chipotle and the paprika. Stirquickly. Immediately add the chopped onions, celery,nd carrots. Stir thoroughly and scrape up the browned bits. The cool vegetables will prevent the spices burning.

Stir frequently until the onions are soft and all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan are gathered up. There will be slight color on the onions/carots/celery. Add the sausage back to the pot and mix into the vegetables thoroughly. Now add the bay leaf, the rinsed beans, and the chicken stock. The stock should not cover the vegetables. Put the chicken thighs back in (with the skin still on), and nestle them into the vegetables.

Cover the pot tightly with a sheet of foil  and then the duch oven lid. This provides a tight seal and prevent the flavors from escaping too much.

Simmer on the stove top on low heat for about 30-45 minutes - until the chicken is cooked through. Skim any fat off, adjust the seasoning, remove the skin from the chighs, and serve piping hot.
You can, of course, allow it to cool (in the fridge overnight), by which time any fat will have risen to the top and solidified. Then you can simply remove it with a spoon.

Changing the spicing completely changes the dish. So for the Mexican version, use chorizo, don't use cinnamon or star anise at all. Amp up the cumin and coriander. Use a chipotle in adobo sauce instead of a dried one. Use more chicken stock - make it sltly soupier, and used red kidnns instead of garbanzos.Garnish with a lot of fresh cilantro - limes, slice of avocado, etc.

The variations really are up to you. This dish never comes out the same twice. That's one reason we like it so much. In the words of Jacques Pepin, "A recipe only exists at the time you make it."

1 comment:

jabrewer3 said...

Sounds Great! Mine is Coq Au Vin. Learned from TimeLife Cooking series many years ago...

Love the emphasis on sanitation and no fat down the drain!