I sure do love Alton Brown for all he’s done on Good Eats to help me and lots of people learn about food, cooking, and the science behind the two. The first time I saw the show was in my old apartment after college, and I wasn’t sure what the heck I was watching. The skits threw me, but it didn’t take long before I wanted to know the “why” and “how” behind turning ingredients into “Good Eats.” Not only that, but the things Alton cooked were mostly meals I wanted to try cooking, too. After I looked up the recipe on the internet, I’d try them out in my own kitchen using my new cooking knowledge. You might have a similar story.
The episode “Cubing Around” (which I mentioned yesterday) presented me with the idea that you can take meat, brown it in batches on cast iron (or enameled cast iron), add ingredients and liquids, then take that same pot and throw it in a low temp oven to make the whole thing come together. After an hour or more, out comes a simply amazing, mouth watering, fall apart meal … with flavors and textures I’d never tasted before. The most amazing part was that the Swiss Steak CAME FROM MY KITCHEN. I was blown away. It felt like a miracle. I cooked it a few more times, then after my friends tried it and gave me a thumbs up, I was pushed to forever enshrine the recipe as something wonderful.
Fast forward to a few years down the line, and I was making Swiss Steak again, but this time in the RV. Around that time I was also looking to cook chicken in ways I hadn’t tried. I wondered if I could do a chicken in my cast iron. So then I tried replicating the process of making Swiss Steak, but with chicken instead. This experiment happened to coincide with the chile harvest in New Mexico where you can buy loads of the suckers for cheap. When driving through the state, I bought some just to have on hand, and they seemed like the perfect thing to add to the chicken after the initial browning steps. It turned out great in the end.
From the success of the green chile and chicken experiment, I began to see other ways I could have gone with the ingredients, new variations springing up in my mind, and from that I was able to produce what follows:
Elastic Chicken Stew
- 1 whole chicken, cut into breasts/legs/thighs, skin removed (or roughly five or six thighs, skin removed)
- 3 cups vegetables (use whatever you have that works with chicken, like onions, carrots, tomatoes)
- liquid to cover (roughly a cup and a half of water, stock, or broth)
- oil or butter (for helping the chicken and vegetables brown)
- optional (herbs, spices, sauces, oils, wine)
Preheat the oven to 350º F.
Remove the skin from the chicken. If you don’t, it ends up all soggy and gross from the liquids when this dish goes into the oven.
On your stove top, brown the chicken in batches using a lightly oiled cast iron (or enameled cast iron) dutch oven on medium high heat. Sprinkle the chicken lightly and evenly with salt and pepper. For this part, don’t try to cook the chicken all the way through. You’re just giving the meat some color. Transfer browned pieces to a plate (or the lid of dutch oven).
Next, add veggies and a little oil or butter if the bottom of our pan is dry. If using fresh vegetables, do a quick five minute saute/brown of everything to add some flavor. Your vegetables will cook better if they’re cut into evenly sized pieces. After the fresh veggies are done browning, add anything canned or jarred like tomatoes, corn, or as in my earlier example, green chiles. Scrape the bottom of the dutch oven, getting all those browned bits loose. Those brown bits add tremendous flavor.
After your veggies are browned, it’s time to add things like herbs, spices, oils, wine, or whatever flavor enhancers you feel like. Go wild! Give it all a stir, then nestle in the chicken pieces among the veggies in the pot. Turn off your stove top.
Add in the water (or broth or stock) to just barely cover the chicken. Put the lid on the pan, and then put it all in the 350ºF oven about 50 minutes. (When it’s finished, you want the meat to have an internal temperature of at least 165º F.)
Remove from the pot from the oven and uncover. Take out the chicken using tongs, and set the meat aside to cool. Re-cover the dutch oven still containing the vegetables. When sufficiently cool, break the chicken into bite-size pieces and transfer the boneless meat back to dutch oven. Adjust seasonings if necessary, and serve on it’s own or over your rice. With the green chile stew pictured above, I also added a dollop of sour cream to the top of each serving.