Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Center Star Chicken Stew

Chicken Stew is a Center Star staple...all fundraisers, get-togethers and family reunions include a pot of chicken stew. GOOD chicken stew comes out of a black cast-iron kettle, over an open fire. That, however, also involves a lot of beer and an entire Saturday so sometimes, we fudge.

My mother grew up about 25 miles north of here, in another state, and she never heard of chicken stew. I moved to Fort Worth, in the middle of nowhere, and no one in my neighborhood had ever heard of chicken stew (although they all consider it a staple now.) I have NO concept of life without chicken fixes a lot of ills, it's really good and it's really simple. There is only one rule to follow and that is: Five Things. You only put five things in chicken stew. Get cute, add some other stuff and you have sinned and God will get you. Just mark my word.

The basic ingredients are chicken, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and corn. That's the five things. The proportions vary by family, and by occasion. If you're cooking for home? Half as many potatoes as chicken. Cooking for a crowd/fundraiser? Equal chicken and potatoes. No one will notice.

Center Star Chicken Stew
5 pounds chicken...whole, packaged, all-white, all-dark, your preference. Best is whole chickens, where you stew them, let them cool, debone and de-little black things and return the meat to the broth. This method also requires a Friday night before the Saturday. Next best/easiest is a bag of boneless, skinless breasts and a bag of boneless, skinless thighs.
2-3 pounds cubed potatoes
1-2 pounds diced onions
2 28-ounce cans diced or pureed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 28-ounce can corn
Chop the chicken, put it in a large stewpan and cover with water. Add a bay leaf or two and the onion. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer at least until done and an hour or so if you have the time. Peel and cube the potatoes and add to the salt and nothing else. (For some reason at this point, if the other ingredients are in there the potatoes won't get done before Christmas.) When the potatoes are done add the tomatoes and stir well. Then add the corn and simmer for about 20 minutes to let everyone make friends. Salt and pepper to taste. (And if someone says, "This needs pepper," don't pour in an entire red and white can of pepper because if you do, the next day we'll have to pour out the entire kettle-full.)

Individuality...My sister-in-law likes tomato soup as part of the tomatoes. I like half whole kernel and half creamed corn. My sister doesn't like the smell of corn (I didn't make that up) so she uses shoe-peg, but that gets expensive for a crowd and besides...well, never mind.

When you first make this, it's all this stuff sitting in a pot. After it's cooked for a while everything a Chicken Stew (the event) there are no chunks of potatoes, they've all cooked down. And there are no chunks of chicken...just strands of meat throughout the pot. You eat this with slices of white bread or saltines. You season each bowl with Tabasco. You have a lot of cold beer.

And life is really good.
(Last year I paid...over $200...for this house-friendly black cast-iron pot. Number one, because I could make chicken stew at home and still have a semi-kettle, and number two because it came from a foundry that used to operate here.)

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