Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Slowly Stewing: A Lesson in Patience

I don't do a lot of slow cooking in my kitchen. Frankly, that involves way too much patience and focused concentration for me - considering that even having a conversation is a matter of fairly high effort these days, the thought of continuing with a recipe that takes upwards of three hours start to finish (especially if there's a lot of "down time" involved) is a bit mind boggling to me. Don't get me wrong - I love the results of a slowly-braised, stewed or roasted preparation - it's just the whole process I can't usually fall in love with.

The benefits of cooking something... really, almost anything... with a low and slow mentality are obvious. First, the quality of flavour goes through the roof. Sharp spices and acids mellow, wines reduce and intensify, sugars caramelize, while meat and starches both exude their own richness and soak up the flavour of everything around them. Speaking of meats, you can get away with buying dirt-cheap cuts when you plan to keep them simmering for hours - no sense in buying a buttery filet mignon for the crockpot when a bunch of cubed chuck meat had twice the flavour and would end up tasting like the stew anyways. When the stove, oven or crockpot is at a low heat, and the liquid  in the covered pot stays just barely simmering for hours, the steam from the luxurious broth or sauce inside can't escape. The result?  Tender, moist and perfectly blended elements result. Just like this rich, creamy curry-stewed chicken I made for my dad.


My dad adores West Indian style cooking, especially the saucy curries that he sometimes gets at the food court near his office. When he mentioned a hankering for a "real, West Indies type of curry chicken", I couldn't resist even though it involved a long, slow stew to make. I was even lucky enough to have a couple groceries near me that actually sold the proper bird for the job: a stewing hen. Stewing hens are really tough, old birds, usually the end-of-the-run, battery farm hens that no general grocer would dare try to sell (since they're generally tiny, not beautiful to look at and don't roast well) are roughly hacked up, bones and all, heavily seasoned and thrown into a pot with anything you can imagine - veggies, beans, rice, potatoes... whatever is around! After hour upon hour of stewing, the shoe-leathery meat softens and begins to fall apart into tender ribbons of flavour, full of the moisture from the sauce, and the potatoes, beans and rice thicken the thin sauce into a rich, velvety blanket. Let me tell you - three hours notwithstanding - it is beyond worth the long wait. And the best part? It gets even better as it sits, so the next day's leftovers are above anything you could take out, and cheap too (the meat for this recipe cost me $3)!

So, are you hungry yet? Hey, if you start now (considering it's 9AM EDT), you can even have it for dinner!

West Indies Curry Chicken
Serves 6 (generously)
¼ cup curry powder
½ tbsp turmeric
1 tsp allspice
½ tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ Vidalia onion, sliced thinly
3 lbs bone-in stewing hen(s), cut into small pieces
Juice of 2 limes
2 tbsp coconut (or canola) oil, divided
1 red onion, diced
1 tbsp fresh-grated ginger
1 sweet bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
3 medium carrots, roughly chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 habanero pepper, pricked with a fork but left whole
1 (14-oz) can coconut milk
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
4 red potatoes, quartered
½ cup converted rice, uncooked
½ cup cooked soybeans, drained (about 3 oz dried, see recipe for using dried/soaked beans)
  1. Combine curry powder, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine Vidalia onion, chicken and spice mixture. Pour the lime juice overtop and toss well. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours, up to overnight (make ahead – place mixture into freezer bags and freeze up to 1 month, thaw before continuing).
  3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  4. Add marinated chicken mixture and cook 3 minutes, stirring.
  5. Add remaining oil, red onion, ginger, bell pepper, celery and carrots. Cook 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is beginning to soften and chicken is browned evenly.
  6. Pour in half the chicken stock, scraping the pot bottom to dislodge caramelized bits, then add the remaining stock and habanero pepper (and if using soaked soybeans, those as well).
  7. Bring pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the coconut milk.
  8. Partially cover and cook over medium-low for 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until mixture is partially thickened and chicken is beginning to fall apart.
  9. Uncover, add sweet potato, red potatoes, rice and cooked soybeans (if not using the dried).
  10. Increase heat to medium high and simmer briskly for 35 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 487.7
Total Fat: 24.9 g
Cholesterol: 70.4 mg
Sodium: 631.8 mg
Total Carbs: 38.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.7 g
Protein: 31.6 g

2 comments :

David T. Macknet said...

We love to slow-cook Gluten, making a sort of "roast beast" that's tastier than anything else! It does take time (and drives you crazy if you roast it over night), but it's worth it!

CookingSchoolConfidential.com said...

I made the mistake of mentioning your West Indies Curry Chicken to my husband. Okay. Now I have to go to the market.

(It does look amazing, doesn't it? And who can go wrong with a slow cooked chicken - tender, flavorful.)

Cheers!