Maw Maw’s Chicken Stew
Every comfort food is filled with flavor in Louisiana, as in chef Gigi Patout’s chicken stew with rice. The chicken is browned in chicken fat, three kinds of pepper give the dish zing, and a depth of flavor is provided by the mahogany brown roux. This is traditional Louisiana cooking at its best. The onions, bell peppers, and celery are a basic flavor note in this regional fare. And Maw Maw? That’s your grandmother!
- Hen - one, 5-pound
- Salt - 2 tablespoons
- Cayenne Pepper - 1 tablespoon
- Freshly ground black pepper - 2 teaspoons
- Freshly ground white pepper - 2 teaspoons
- Dark Roux - 5 cups, (recipe follows)
- Yellow Onions - 3 large, chopped
- Celery Stalks - 2, chopped
- Chicken Stock or Broth - 8 cups
- Fresh Mushrooms - 6 ounces, sliced
- Green Onions - 2 bunches, chopped
- Parsley Sprigs - 6, stemmed and minced
- White rice - 2 to 3 cups, cooked
- High-grade Vegetable Oil - 2 cups
- All-purpose Flour - 3 to 3-1/2 cups
For the stew: Pull off the heck and back fat from the hen and reserve. Cut the hen into 10 to 12 small serving pieces. Mix the salt and peppers in a small bowl. Season the chicken pieces well with about a third of this mixture.
In a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, cook the chicken fat over medium heat until the fat is melted. Add the chicken pieces and brown well on all sides over medium-high heat. Do not crowd the pan; brown in batches if necessary. Remove the chicken from the pan. Add the roux and half of the onions, bell peppers, and celery to the skillet, cook 4 to 5 minutes, remove from heat, and let cool.
Place the chicken stock or broth in a heavy 6- to 8-quart stockpot. Add the remaining onions, bell peppers, and celery, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and begin whisking or stirring in the roux, 1 cup at a time, making sure each cup dissolves completely before you add more, until you have a medium-thick sauce. Stir in the rest of the salt and pepper mixture and simmer over low heat, stirring often, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add the chicken pieces and continue to simmer until the hen is tender, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the toughness of the bird. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the fat to rise to the top. Skim off and discard as much fat as possible and return the stew to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, green onions, and parsley, and simmer 3 to 5 minutes more.
To serve: Divide the rice among the warmed serving plates. Divide the chicken pieces among the dishes, placing them on the rice. Pour the gravy over each.
Place the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Heat it to bout 350 F. Using a wooden spoon or a whisk, quickly stir in 3 cups of flour all at once, being careful not to splatter yourself. Once the flour is thoroughly mixed in, check the consistency: it should form a smooth paste that is neither runny or clumpy or grainy. Since the absorbency of flour varies greatly, as does the body of oils, it is impossible to give an exact proportion of flour to oil. If the roux is too thin, stir in a bit more flour; if it is too thick, stir in a little oil. With the roux still over medium heat, stir continuously, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan. The flour will slowly begin to brown. Simply continue to cook and stir until it reaches the desired color. A dark roux will take 50 to 70 minutes. It should be dark brown, but not black. Judge you roux by the color, not the time, which will vary according to your equipment and ingredients. When the roux has reached the desired color, remove it from the heat and let it cool.