Jhe word “suffocate” doesn’t always have the best connotation (see: relationships or stopping someone from breathing). But when it comes to cooking, it’s something I crave when I need comfort. Basically a stovetop braising, smothering is a technique most commonly associated with chicken or pork – but can be used with other types of animal protein as well as vegetables – where the braising liquid is thickened to form a succulent sauce. And this sauce is the real star of the dish.
“The sauce could be a meal on its own if you do it right,” says chef and cookbook author Adrienne Cheatham.
The exact origins of the choking are unknown. The first reference I found in print is a “To Smother Young Chickens” recipe in Lettice Bryan’s The Kentucky Housewife, originally published in 1839. Some attribute it to the Cajun and Creole cuisines of Louisiana, where “smothered” translates to “smothered”. In the South Carolina Lowcountry, “chicken stew” is almost identical to what others call “chicken stew.” I consider it a quintessential soul food dish and a staple of southern cuisine in general, and no matter what you call it or where it comes from, it’s for sure: the dish is full of comfort. .
I tend to view the dish more as a technique than an exact recipe, as each individual has their own preferences as to what cut of chicken to use, whether floured before browning, what vegetables to include, etc. Follow my recipe below for what I consider a classic version of the dish, or use the steps that follow as a starting point for creating your own chicken stew.
Step 1: Season and brown the chicken. Growing up, I remember my mother frequently buying packages of whole cut-up chickens to cook with, but I would caution against that today. While technically speaking you can use any cut of chicken you have on hand, “you really want to use bone-in dark meat, preferably thighs or thigh and thigh quarters,” explains Cheatham. With chicken breasts – “Blasphemy! Cheatham exclaims – you’ll have to reduce cooking time compared to dark meat, and as a result, you won’t get the same depth of flavor.
To season the chicken, I opt for garlic powder and smoked paprika (in addition to salt and pepper) in the recipe below. Cheatham is a fan of celery seed powder. You can use your favorite store-bought spice blend or create your own.
Another point of contention is whether to dredge the chicken pieces in flour before searing them. The smothered chicken I remember eating in my youth was basically fried chicken with gravy. While the flour coating gives the sauce something to cling to, I wanted to limit the amount of oil that would otherwise be needed. Eliminating this step streamlines the recipe without changing the result too much. Not dredging also means you can melt the fat from the chicken as it browns, further reducing the need for additional oil.
2nd step: Sauté the vegetables. Once the chicken is browned and set aside, the vegetables are added to the pan to form the base of the sauce. I love the simplicity of onion and garlic. Both sides of the Cheatham family used either the “trinity” (onions, celery and green pepper) or onions, celery and mushrooms. She prefers trinity, but is not beholden to it, and will use various vegetables she has on hand.
Step 3: Build a roux. Once the vegetables are cooked, dust them with flour before adding liquid to form the sauce. I like my sauce full bodied, so I call for more flour than some recipes, but you can reduce it if you prefer a thinner consistency. And while all-purpose flour certainly gets the job done, Cheatham recommends Wondra, a type of instant flour that dissolves easily, eliminating any worries of lumps.
Step 4: Add the liquid and braise the chicken. “I usually deglaze with wine or beer,” says Cheatham. “Honestly, I’ll use anything I have in the fridge or that’s already opened.” I like the crisp acidity of a white wine like pinot gris to scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Then the broth or water make up the rest of the braising liquid. For a creamier sauce, add some form of dairy product or stir in a can of cream of mushroom soup or chicken soup. A few sprigs of thyme help flavor the braising liquid in the recipe below. Sage and bay leaves are also common, but soy sauce, Dijon mustard or Worcestershire sauce can add extra spice. Finally, let it simmer on the stovetop until the chicken is tender and the sauce is full of flavor (though you can also braise it in the oven, if you like).
There are as many iterations of smothered chicken as there are cooks, and you can’t go wrong once you master the basic steps and fundamentals. However, one thing almost everyone will agree on is that it’s always a good idea to serve it with rice to mop up the sauce.
Active time: 45 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6
Smothered Chicken is a traditional Southern dish where chicken pieces are braised with aromatics and liquid to form a succulent sauce. There are as many ways to prepare it as there are cooks, so feel free to use this recipe as a template for your own creation. The finished dish is usually served with rice to mop up the sauce.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1¼ tsp. fine salt, divided, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
1.4 kg chicken thighs, patted dry (can substitute thighs and/or drumsticks) (see notes below)
2 medium yellow onions (about 400g), halved and thinly sliced
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
120 ml dry white wine, such as pinot gris (see notes)
240ml unsalted or low sodium chicken broth
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat oil until simmering. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix 1 tsp salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika until well blended. Sprinkle seasoning mixture all over the chicken.
Working in batches, if necessary, so as not to overcrowd the pan, place the chicken in the pan, skin side down, and sear until nicely browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook the other side until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a dish or rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chicken, if necessary.
Add the onions and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook, stirring regularly, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
Add the wine, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add broth and thyme, stir to combine and bring to a boil. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pot, partially cover, and cook, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer, until the chicken is cooked through (an instant-read thermometer should register at least 75 °C when inserted into the thickest pan). part of the chicken without touching the bone) and tender, about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt and/or pepper, to taste. Discard thyme sprigs and serve (see notes).
If you’re avoiding alcohol, use an equal amount of extra chicken broth and a little vinegar in place of the wine.
If using thigh quarters, you can cut each quarter into thighs and drumsticks for more portions.
How to store: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.
Nutritional information per serving, based on 6 | calorie: 482; total fat: 32g; saturated fat: 8g; cholesterol: 151mg; sodium: 655mg; carbohydrates: 11g; dietary fiber: 2g; sugar: 3g; protein: 33g.
This analysis is an estimate based on the available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietitian or nutritionist.
© The Washington Post