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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chicken, The Phantom Menace

*This is a family favorite created by my dad.  He did all of the cooking and writing, and gets all the credit.*

This dish was named in honor of the Star Wars movie which came out about the same time I started making it. It is anything but a menace. Quite the opposite, it is a great comfort food and as you will see from the ingredients, also healthy.

There a lot of steps to making this dish. I have from time to time tried to cut corners and combine steps, but I was never quite as happy with the results as when I follow the steps outlined below.

Step 1- Precook a small bag of black eyed peas- about 2-3 cups dried. I like to add a little salt and bullion to the water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes. I usually get this going so it can be cooking while I go through the other steps. This is actually one thing you can short cut on by buying canned black eyed peas, but it is really easy and inexpensive to go with the dried peas. This will make an excess quantity, so I freeze some for other dishes.

Step 2 – Toast about a quarter to a third of a cup of all purpose GF four in a large sauce pan. With the heat on medium high to high stir the flour continuously in the pan. This takes 5-10 minutes and can produce a lot of smoke as the flour browns. (You may have issues with smoke detectors. Be prepared to ventilate.) Stir briskly or it will burn and you’ll have to start over. Shoot for a nice dark brown like a good piece of toast.

Put this aside and rinse out the pan. You’re going to need it.

Step 3 – Collect and mix spices. This is about what I use:

1 tsp dried mustard

1 tsp coarse salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

¼ tsp cayenne pepper ( more if you like hot stuff)

¼ tsp white pepper

1 tsp paprika

I feel like the white pepper is especially important for how it feels in the back of your mouth, but don’t over do it because it will give the dish a harsh taste.

Spice Mixture

Step 4 – Precook Chicken - I like to cut up chicken breasts into small pieces, maybe about an inch or so. I have also done this dish with chicken thighs, which worked very well too. Sprinkle about a quarter of the spice mixture on the cut up chicken and fry in some a few table spoons of peanut or olive oil. The idea is to just brown the outside a little, it will have time to cook through later. Set the chicken aside and wipe the pan out, at least so there are no small pieces of chicken left.

Chicken Pieces frying in the pan

Step 5 – Dice up vegetables – I like to use one Vidalia onion, 3-4 celery stalks and a bell pepper, green or red. Cut these up and put most of the remaining spice mixture on them.

Have about three cups of chicken stock or three cups of warm water with a couple of bullion cubes dissolved in it on hand. Also, have about a cup of white grape juice or white wine handy.

Brown these in the pan on high heat, stirring the while. A brown residue will build up on the bottom which you should scrape to prevent it from burning. From time to time deglaze the pan, first with white grape juice, then with some chicken stock when the residue builds up again. The vegetables should be well cooked and brown.

When you are satisfied that they are done add the remainder of the stock and a little more wine or grape juice.

Add in the other things you precooked, the chicken, the flour and one to two cups of the black eyed peas. I also like to put in carrots at this point. You can slice up a couple of large ones or throw in a bag of those baby ones. Add the rest of the spice mixture too.

If you used white wine instead of white grape juice add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar.

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Step 6 – Simmer and Serve – I usually like to let this mixture simmer for 30-60 minutes. Make sure the carrots are soft. Check the seasoning. Often I need to add a little more salt and/or sugar. Give it a stir from time to time. The flour and the starch from the peas generally thicken the dish well; about like gravy. If you want it thicker when you are ready to serve, bring it to a boil and add a table spoon of corn starch in a third of a cup of cold water

About 30 minutes before serving, peel and cook some potatoes. Cook in boiling salted water. When the potatoes are soft when stabbed with a fork they are ready. Drain the water, pore into a colander, put them back in the pot you boiled them in and mash along with butter, milk, salt and pepper. You can also use condensed milk at this step which makes them even creamier.

How many potatoes should you use? Take the number you think you will need and multiply by 2.5.

Plop down some mashed potatoes on a plate and ladle the menace over it. Damn !

This dish is ever better when reheated, and it freezes well too.

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