Other people’s recipes: Dan Souza’s chicken stew for Cook’s Illustrated

This is the first of two posts on food I made this weekend, both of them rather short and lacking in illustration. This one will also be lacking in nutrition details, for reasons I’ll explain.

The recipe in question is “Best Chicken Stew” ($), by Dan Souza, which appeared in Cook’s Illustrated for November, 2013, and also in the season-opening episode (1501) of this year’s America’s Test Kitchen on PBS, “Comfort Food Revisited“, which Souza also presented on camera. (Is anyone else disoriented by the new title sequence, or is it just me? I had all that narration memorized, and now in the new titles there’s no narration at all.) Hopefully this is the start of a new trend and we’ll get to see more of the Test Kitchen staff actually talking about the recipes they developed.

In developing this recipe, Souza pulls out most of the tricks in the Test Kitchen’s playbook — the only obvious ones missing are tomato paste and mushrooms, which puts it within the realm of possibility for me. I did have to go out and buy a couple of those tiny little bottles of white wine. (Why, oh why, can’t they make them in a reasonable size? Like, seriously, 187 milliliters? What kind of unit is that supposed to be? OK, so it’s a quarter of a bottle, but what would you ever measure that way?) The main chicken component is thighs, which makes sense since they have more fat, connective tissue, and flavor than breasts, but this recipe also uses chicken wings — which are discarded before service, after rendering their fat and doing a solvent extraction of their collagen. My nutrition calculator can’t cope with ingredients that don’t make it in to the final product — particularly in a case like this where it’s not even known how much of the fat and protein have been left behind in the stew — so I’m not going to provide nutrition information for this recipe; I would need to send it out to a lab, and I plan on eating it (using a conservative but known-wrong estimate) instead.

Mise for the chicken stew
This photo shows most of the mise en place for the chicken stew. Not visible here: the chicken broth — I used Pacific Organic low-sodium, which I believe the Test Kitchen has panned in recent tests — the wine, and the soy sauce. (Soy sauce in chicken stew? I told you Souza pulled out almost all the stops!)

The initial preparation of the stew starts out on fairly normal lines: the bacon (of course there’s bacon — the Test Kitchen doesn’t do kosher or halal; they don’t even suggest alternatives) is rendered, then the chicken wings are rendered in the bacon grease, and then the aromatics are cooked in the animal fat. Unusually, the pot is deglazed at this stage, but the deglazing liquid is then allowed to evaporate, and once the super-cooked aromatics are dry, butter and flour are added to make a roux. Then the pot is deglazed again with the rest of the broth, and the wings and the lean part of the bacon are added back, along with the rest of the vegetables, and the whole thing is cooked, uncovered, in a moderate oven for half an hour.

Stew after first round in oven
At this point, we’re supposed to deglaze the sides of the pot. The photo in the magazine shows a deep, dark ring of fond around the pot where the liquid has evaporated, but as you can see, mine never got there. I followed the procedure anyway (using a wooden spoon to scrape down what crust did accumulate), but there was so little it’s hard to believe it made any difference. The chicken thighs are added at this point, and after heating back to a simmer on the stovetop, the Dutch oven goes back in the oven — again uncovered — to cook for another 45 minutes. (One sour note: the recipe calls for thighs “halved crosswise and trimmed”, but the photo in the magazine shows much smaller chunks than that, more like the normal ½” cubes of breast meat seen in many chicken soups. I followed the recipe, but in retrospect this results in pieces of chicken that are unsatisfactorily large compared to the vegetables — see the photo below.)

Finished stew in a bowl
I forgot to take a picture when it was fresh out of the oven; this photo shows my second serving. All told, I got 5 pounds and 2 ounces of stew, which works out to just under seven 12-ounce servings. On tasting, I noted that — as with my pot pie the previous weekend — the vegetables were a bit crunchy and really could have used another five or ten minutes of cooking time. It was still pretty tasty, but I think the process was rather more involved than I would really care to repeat — all told it took about four hours from starting prep to sitting down to dinner.

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