Twice, I've asked a native New Orleanian woman what her family's favorite thing that she cooked was, and been pleasantly surprised by hearing an answer that I'd never heard before in my short, sheltered life. The first was "rice and gravy," and the second was "chicken and butter beans." My road to understanding rice and gravy was a winding one, but I think I've got it down (I wrote about that experience for the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, which you can find a link to on my "Elsewhere" page).
Chicken and butter beans was something altogether different; I didn't even know what a butter bean was. Lynn Becnel, whom I worked with at Tulane, said it was her husband's favorite dish of all. I was eager to try it, and found some freshly packaged butter beans at a local vegetable stand. I know my way around a bean, so I did what I always do with dry beans: I soaked them. Take note here that butter beans don't need soaking. You can do it, but you'll end up with a bunch of white beans shedding their tender skins as if it were molting season. You'll also probably stand there over the bowl, wondering if you're supposed to help them by popping off the skins of those who still have them. That's what I did. Let's just say my beans disintegrated in the pot!
Now I've learned, through trial, error, and some good advice from Lynn, that you just don't cook butter beans very long (and certainly don't soak them). They're tender, rich, and creamy--a perfect starchy addition to smothered chicken. Smothered chicken is basically a chicken fricasee with some extra vegetables added, along with stock, to produce a thick gravy. In other words, it's like a big group hug. I jazzed this one up with a good dose of Tabasco Green Sauce, which is probably not as spicy as you think. The Tabasco gives the whole works a shake up, like drunk aunt Mimi on Treme. All group hugs should have one of those.
spicy smothered chicken and butter beans
This is especially good over biscuits, with a side of sliced red garden tomatoes. You can also add chopped fresh tomatoes to the gravy in the skillet, if you like.
- 1 whole chicken, cut up into 8 serving pieces
- 1/3 cup Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce, plus 2 Tablespoons
- 1 cup dried butter beans (large limas), rinsed and sorted (or 1 15-oz can butter beans, drained)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced small
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 sprigs fresh)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup minced parsley
- Marinate the chicken: Rinse the chicken pieces, pat them dry, and place in a large bowl. Add 1/3 cup Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce and turn the pieces around in it to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes, while you get the beans cooking.
- Meanwhile, cook the butter beans: Place the beans and bay leaf in a medium saucepan and cover with water by 4 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 40 to 50 minutes, until the beans are very tender when tested (the skins will pucker up and look frilly at first, but will stretch and relax as they cook). Drain and set aside.
- While the beans are cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Lightly coat each chicken piece in the seasoned flour.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet with deep sides over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Remove chicken to a plate and repeat until all the chicken is browned.
- To the same skillet, add the onions, celery, and bell pepper (add extra oil if the skillet is dry), and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until softened. Add the jalapeno, garlic, and thyme, and saute another minute or two.
- Add the chicken stock and 2 Tablespoons Tabasco Green Sauce, and combine well. Nestle the chicken pieces back into the skillet, skin side-up, and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and partially cover; simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the reserved butter beans to the skillet, replace partial cover, and simmer another 10 to 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the gravy is thick. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or Tabasco Green if necessary (I added about a teaspoon more salt). Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley.
serves 6 to 8
Disclaimer: Tabasco compensated me for creating this recipe.