Friday, January 31, 2014

Chicken and Biscuits for a Wintery Day

Not my car, thankfully.
Tuesday afternoon, when Snowpocalypse 2014 struck Atlanta, I spent five hours on Roswell road between Sandy Springs and Roswell. And I was one of the lucky ones. I drive a Prius, which was designed for stop and go traffic and has a computerized system that prevents your tires from spinning out. I slid a few times on Glenridge and Riverside, but never for more than a few seconds and I never lost control of my vehicle. And I still had a full tank of gas when I was finally safe in my driveway. I feel incredibly lucky.

Five hours in the car gives you lots of time to think. When I wasn't contemplating which gas stations would be a good zombie apocalypse shelter, I made a recipe in my head, because that's what I do. I wasn't able to make it that night, because my nerves were shot after that long behind the wheel. (I am a nervous driver and prone to panic attacks. I am a super exciting person to be in a car with.) But I did make this the next day. Cold weather makes me crave soups, stews and hot breads pulled freshly from the oven. In my head, as I navigated the icy conditions, I planned out a meal that included the best of all these things: Chicken and biscuits.

As with many of my recipes, I try to lighten things up a bit. So instead of a heavy cream sauce, or cream of condensed soup, this uses a light chicken broth thicken with corn starch. I loaded it up on veggies, including the super trendy kale that I always seem to have around these days. Skinless chicken thighs provide the protein.

Why chicken thighs? First, they hold up to stewing better than breast meat. I've never made a chicken stew with breast meat that wasn't tough and stringy. But thighs? They become melt in your mouth delicious when braised slowly at low temperatures. Thighs get a bad rap for being fatty, but pull the skin off and ounce for ounce, they are nearly indistinguishable from breasts. Plus, they just taste more…chickeny than breast meat. Trust me on this one. Do this with thighs.

The biscuits are where I don't try to be healthy. I use Michael Ruhlman's Chicago biscuit recipe to top this stew. Someone less lazy would roll these biscuits out and cut them properly before laying them down, but I think drop biscuits taste just as good and don't make such a mess of my countertops. The combination of tender, puffy biscuits and savory chicken and vegetables is really quite magical. Take the extra time to make your own biscuits.

Chicken and Biscuits

For the stew…

1 pack skinless, bone in chicken thighs
3 ribs celery, rinsed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped roughly
2-3 small, waxy potatoes, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
2 cups leafy kale
6 cups chicken stock (I use Better than Bullion)
2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the biscuits…

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces butter, chilled
6 ounces milk

In dutch oven, brown chicken thighs. Remove and set aside. Add chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Once those are soft, add potatoes, mushrooms and kale. Add chicken back to the pot and cover with chicken broth. Place in a low oven (mine goes down to 270 degrees) and cover with heavy lid. Cook for two hours, or until chicken shreds easily with a fork and vegetables are tender. Mix cornstarch with enough water to make a slurry and add it to the pot. This will thicken your sauce.

For the biscuits, sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Cut in chilled butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Slowly beat in milk until mixture is pliable. I do all this in a food processor, so it's really fast. If you are rolling and cutting, let your biscuit dough chill for at least twenty minutes before rolling out. I'll do another post just on biscuits some day, but the secret here is keeping everything cold.

Top with generous spoonfuls of biscuit dough and and bake at 350 until brown. Serve immediately.

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