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Friday, February 24, 2012

Creamy Chicken Stew

I had zero plans to make stew any time soon, and when I took out some chicken from the freezer to thaw, I had fully intended to make a pasta of some sort, with some fresh asparagus.

However... when I was in the fridge, I happened upon the rather sorry state of my crisper vegetables.  Most notably my carrots and celery.  They were limp and sad.  The asparagus, looking all shiny and green and firm, snickered at me while winking and saying "eh... those pathetic sons a' roots don't know how to be appetizing, do they?"  But... much to the asparagus' chagrin, I decided upon a last-minute amendment to the plan.  

The sorrowful sobs of the carrots and the pitiable whine of the celery, convinced me.

Meanwhile, some potatoes in the cupboard nearby were so bored and depressed they were driven to hosting their own sprout-a-thon international games.  Quietly, in the dark, and just between the three of them, with several cans of tomato paste as the judges.

So... the smug asparagus got returned to his crisper prison for a few more days, and the carrots and celery wiped their eyes and noses to look up expectantly when I grabbed them.  Unfortunately much of their family and friends required sacrificing to the almighty compost bin in the sky (or under the sink), but the survivors were so ecstatic they just wouldn't shut up.  

They kept telling me that I was making the right choice, and assuring me that they'd be the most delicious they could possibly be, and my stew was just going to be awesome.

"Yes, yes.  Thank-you.  No, there's no need for you to name your roots after me."

So, I chopped em up, cleaned em up, and neatly arranged them all for a family portrait:

An extended root-vegetable family portrait.  The scallions are mischievously holding up two fingers over the leek.  Oh ho ho... those rapscallions.


Anyway, they were surprisingly OK with my horribly maiming and dicing them.  You can see that they were still just jazzed to be used up I think.

The larger root vegetables (potatoes, celery, and carrots) were rip roarin' and ready to go, so I let them call shotgun on the slow-cooker pot.  They were pleased to be the first ones in, but then started feeling uneasy about exactly what was going to happen next.  I imagine it can get kind of lonely and scary at the bottom of a big black pot...


So, the chicken I had thawed was - at this point - like, 'whoah dude... do you even KNOW what you're doing?'

"Yes." was my glib response.

My wife is great at buying large amounts of chicken in bulk (cheap) and then separating them and wrapping them individually in freezer bags.  It's a great thing to be able to grab only one or two and use them accordingly.

Needless to say, however, these chicken breasts were not pleased to be woken up from their cryogenic sleep, and reminded me, bleary-eyed, that I had better have a good reason for removing them from their individual slumber pods, and that it looked - to them, at least - that I might have gotten confused somewhere along the line.  

If you ask me, I think they were being Drama Queens.

Yes, technically breast cuts would normally never be used for something as plebeian as stew.  The whole point of stew is to 'soften' some sort of tough cut of meat, so typically I'd use something like chicken thighs for stew, and save the breasts for something better.  However, by this time I was getting more than a little tired of their attitude, so I blurted out:

"You shut your mouth!  Just be grateful that you're getting taken out at all!!!"

I then took out my chef's knife and they immediately blanched.  
Well... immediately, they got hacked to bits.

THEN they blanched.

Heh heh heh.

At this point I was so tired of the chicken's holier-than-thou mindset, that I unceremoniously dumped them into the slow-cooker pot perhaps a little more violently than I could have.  I figured I'd just let them - and their crappy attitude - stew for a bit.

Heh heh heh.

It was past time for introductions, so I figured some were in order.  First I brought out the leeks and introduced them to the gribblies leftover in the frying pan, and then brought in the onion, scallions, and garlic, one-by-one.

They weren't being very sociable, for some reason, and it wasn't until I added some spice to the party (some dried sage leaves) that things livened-up a bit.

They were so lively, in fact, that the party decided, mid-swing, that it should benefit from changing venues.  It had nothing to do with the fact that the saute pan's neighbours were beginning to complain; it was just that they figured their mixer could become a full-on rave when they got to the Slow Cooker (ijj's kitchen's HOTTEST night club.)

Yes they were a mess, slobbering all over and leaving all manner of stuff behind, but I brought in my thawed stock to 'clean-up' after those party animals.

The stock I was using today, was in fact, NOT stock.  After I had already committed to making stew today, I opened my freezer to take out a jar of turkey stock, but sadly realized that I didn't have any stock left.  I could have sworn I had one left, but all that was in there was a jar of chicken soup, and two jars of my recently-made bacon and leek soup.

At this point I was already starting to get questioning glances and whispered doubts from the smart-ass chicken.  <seethe>  I just couldn't let them feel as though there was any truth behind their claims that I didn't know what I was doing, so I plowed ahead using a jar of the soup instead.

"Yes I do know what I'm doing, damnit, shut-up!"

"Ohkayay" they replied dubiously in a sing-song voice, as I drew a nice warm bath for the soup/stock.

So, the soup/stock was doing a really great job "deglazing" the pan with just a little bit of help from my spatula occasionally stirring and scraping the sides.  After a couple minutes, I decided to give some bay leaves a "head-start" on softening up.  

A little known fact is that bay leaves are actually painful introverts.  They confessed to me early on that they were positively PETRIFIED of joining a party which was already in full-swing; not only arriving late, but not knowing anybody there, made them extremely nervous.  So... I thought I'd match them up with the stock beforehand.  I mean... nothing elevates your status more than arriving with the star of the party, right?  They were grateful, and quickly mellowed out.  In fact, after only a minute or two of mixing it up with the stock, they lost almost all of their stiffness!

Because this was going to be a "creamy" chicken stew, I added a generous portion (about a cup) of milk.  Just skim milk, but it adds an awesome colour and a little bit of thickness, to the stew.

Once the stock started getting all steamy with the bay and the milk, I decided it was time.  I gave the root veggies few turns about the room with my wooden spoon, to get them ready, and then the DJ stopped spinning, the lights came on, and a palpable hush of anticipation came over the Slow Cooker.

The red-carpet was rolled out, and after moderate pomp, all the guests had finally arrived.

You thought that the party was rockin' before?  You should have seen what happened once the social lubricant got there!

The raucous, slightly slovenly, rave transformed into a veritable sophisticated symphony!!

The ensuing dance was a plush mosaic of so many intricate weavings of flavour and art, it was almost impossible to look at.  In fact, it was all I could do to just close the doors, and put the Slow Cooker on simmer.

Over the course of the afternoon, and a span of at least 5 hours, the Slow Cooker was pretty quiet.  Every now and then I'd hear a bump here or a grind there.  And although they attempted several times to blow the roof off their party, they only managed to rattle the lid once in a while.

Then... all of a sudden, around 6 o'clock, there was silence.

I checked on the party - typically I don't like to peek when the Slow Cooker has something brewing - by lifting the lid and giving it a stir.  Not a peep.

The guests were eerily quiet, and I could only assume that the party had reached the 'chill-down' phase, where they had all retired to back rooms to sleep and/or give each other massages and talk about how wasted they were.

An absolute perfect time to add the finishing touch.  Some thickening agent, in this case, corn starch.  I mixed up a couple spoonfuls, whisked it into a touch of skim milk, and then cautiously stirred it into the mix and stood back to watch.

It was exactly what the party needed!  The corn starch slowly ran the circuit of the entire place, lending a cohesion to the party that just couldn't be reached before.  The carrots finally gave up trying to get the leeks to give up the goods, the celery ceased vomiting in the toilet stalls, and the potatoes actually ended their drunken rioting.  Even the asinine chicken was mellow and relaxing on the couch as they offered a cool nod of the head in my direction.

All-in-all, I'd say it was a resounding success.

I was asked to censor what the leeks and carrots were doing in this photo, but I believe in freedom of expression, and will have to deal with the legal ramifications later.

The wife brought home a fresh-ish baguette when she came home, and I broke it up (in the peasant fashion) by hand and served it all up together.

Sure the stew was hot and steamy, but it was also mellow; creamy and complex, it was one of the most nuanced concoctions ever to spill out of the Slow Cooker.

They'll be talking about this one for years!


  1. This is an awesome tale!!! Loved it and laughed all the way to the end!!

  2. Great post, loved it

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