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cooking lessons: lighter chicken and biscuits

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By Jen White · August 12, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

This recipe, a favorite of ours for years now, comes from the relentlessly delicious kitchen of The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.  I've spent many happy hours of my life curled up with her cookbooks and a cup of coffee, dreaming that I too had a cooking assistant named Barbara by my side, and that I too had a gigantic barn-sized kitchen with two dishwashers and plenty of gorgeous natural light.  If I had those things, couldn't I too whip up some fantastically comforting food for my husband and millions of viewers?  I think I could.

As it turns out, Ina's recipes are entirely doable in the smallest of kitchens with the dreariest of lighting.  Even though this particular recipe for chicken stew with biscuits dirties a lot of dishes, I started making it in my tiny grad-school kitchen that had approximately 12 square inches of counter space.  I didn't use a mixer to make the biscuits, because I didn't have one yet.  I was covered in flour by the end of it, but that only added to the comforting, homey effect, I'm sure: tender chicken napped in gravy, vegetables that add the perfect texture and sweetness, and biscuits that are crisp on the top and wet on the bottom, a little dumpling-y, in fact.  

One of the things I love about this recipe is the lessons I've learned from it: First, she roasts chicken on the bone to pre-cook it.  A lot of recipes call for poaching chicken in water or stock as a way to precook it for casseroles, but roasting it really does give you a velvety texture and great flavor.  Second, she dissolves bouillon cubes in chicken stock as a way to completely boost the flavor of the sauce.  I mean, it's a really chickeny sauce that you don't have to spend a lot of time tinkering with to get it to taste good, because the bouillon makes it taste really, really good.  Third, blanching the little carrot squares is like making your own version of frozen carrots--they come out partially cooked, in perfect condition for throwing into a piping hot pot of chicken stew.  I like learning how to do things like that from scratch.

I don't normally wrangle with Ina's recipes at all, but this one, I could tell, had more butter and cream than it really needed. Over the past 8 years, I think I've made it about 15 times, each time with a little less fat and consistently fantastic results.  So while my version is not really a low-fat recipe, it's got a lot less fat than the original, plus a little extra vegetation with the addition of mushrooms.  It's a bit of a project, but I always chalk those sweaty cooking minutes up to part of my daily exercise, and a reason to dig in with gusto.  If you break out in stress hives looking at this recipe, here are some ways to cheat:

  • Shred an entire rotisserie chicken instead of roasting your own.  You'll need 4 to 6 cups of cooked, shredded chicken, so you might want to throw in an extra breast or two.
  • Use frozen carrots instead of blanching raw carrots.  
  • Omit the mushrooms or use some from a jar.
  • Top the casserole with premade biscuits, or some thick slices of buttered bread in the last few minutes of baking.

After rubbing the chicken with olive oil, season the underside first, then flip them skin-side up, season, and place in the oven.  It's really important to season the underside well, because there's a lot of exposed meat here. The top side is covered by skin, which will be discarded.


NOTE: this recipe needs a giant baking dish, or a 9 x 13 (above) plus a second dish, an 8 x 8, 9 x 9, or a round cake pan. It feeds an army.

My biscuits are a little thin because I accidentally rolled them out to 1/8" instead of 3/8". Yours will look awesomer.


lighter chicken and biscuits (adapted from Chicken Stew with Biscuits by Ina Garten)

  • 6 chicken breast halves, with skin and bones
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 5 large carrots)
  • 8 ounces fresh button mushrooms, sliced
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 large yellow onions, diced
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups frozen peas (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley

for the biscuits:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced small and chilled in the freezer for a few minutes
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley
  • 1 beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.  Rub the chicken all over with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then season the underside generously with salt and pepper. Turn skin-side up, season generously, and roast in the heated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the juices just run clear when a piece of chicken is pierced with a knife.  Set aside until cool enough to handle (leave the oven on).
  2. While the chicken cooks, prep the vegetables: Fill a medium saucepan with 4 inches of water and bring to a boil.  Drop the carrots in the boiling water and let simmer for 2 minutes.  Drain the carrots and set aside.  Discard the water.  To the same saucepan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute for about 4 minutes, until softened and juicy.  They'll look very dry at first, but just keep stirring until they give up their liquid.  Set aside. (Use this same saucepan to heat the stock later--it's okay if it has mushroom bits clinging to it.)
  3. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, tear the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut or shred the meat into large bite-sized chunks; you'll need 4 to 6 cups of cooked chicken.  Place the stock and bouillon cubes in the medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat while you make the sauce.
  4. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes (it will be very dry).  Add the hot stock and bring to a low simmer, stirring; simmer for one minute, until thickened.  Add the salt, pepper, and half-and-half, stirring well.  Add the chicken, carrots, mushrooms, frozen peas, and parsley, combining well.  Ladle stew into a large casserole dish (10 x 15 would probably work) or a 9 x 13" dish plus an 8 x 8" dish.  Bake at 375 for 15 to 20 minutes while you make the biscuits.
  5. For the biscuits, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the chilled butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas.  Add the half-and-half and mix just until combined.  Add the parsley and mix in.  Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and press it together, dusting the top with more flour.  Roll out with a rolling pin to about 3/8" thick and cut circles with a 2" cutter--try to get 12.
  6. Remove the baking dishes from the oven and distribute the biscuits evenly on top of the stew.  Brush biscuit tops with egg wash, then return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the biscuit tops are browned.  Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

serves 8 to 10 (this reheats well in a 350 oven)

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