With fluffy white drifts of snow I can barely see over outside my front door, trekking to the grocery store is a bone-chilling affair that leaves me cold and drained by the time I trudge through my front door. This creamy chicken stew is the perfect way to warm up from the inside out. With big hunks of tender chicken and vegetables in a sauce that’s as white as the snow outside, this rich and flavorful stew never fails to put a smile on my face.
So how do we go about making a stew that’s so smile-inducing flavorful? Well, this is the part where I usually go on to tell you about the importance of the Maillard reaction and why browning the onions and chicken thoroughly is the key to a flavorful stew. The problem with browning the ingredients for this dish is that we want a creamy white stew and browning will inherently make the stew… well… brown. That’s why for this stew (or anything else you want to make white), you don’t want to brown anything.
Then how the heck are we supposed to create flavor then you ask? The short answer is that we don’t. The long answer is that since we can’t rely on the Maillard reaction to create flavor, we need to start with ingredients that are inherently flavorful and avoid diluting them. Chicken, onions and carrots are all rich in aromatic compounds and glutamic acids, but if we were to cook these in water, that flavor and umami would get diluted. Instead, by using the liquid released from meat and vegetables, as well as chicken stock and milk, we’re able to compliment the inherent umami of the ingredients without watering them down.
The result is a rich, savory stew, that belies its lack of color with its intense umami (think New England Clam Chowder). Served with a crusty loaf of bread, it’ll have you recharged and ready to head back out into the snow.
Creamy Chicken Stew
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 11 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 8 ounces onions (1 medium onion), finely chopped
- 9 ounces carrots (2 carrots), cut into 1/2-inch thick chunks
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 9 ounces potatoes (1 large potato), cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups milk
- 4.5 ounces broccoli (1 small head), segmented
- Generously salt and pepper the chicken.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pot such as a dutch oven over medium heat until hot.
- Add the chicken and fry one side until cooked, but not browned. Flip the chicken over and then add the onions on top. Cover with a lid and let the the onions steam until tender (about 10 minutes).
- Add the carrots, bay leaf, chicken stock and salt. Cover with the lid and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. You want to maintain a gentle simmer, so turn down the heat if needed.
- Add the potatoes, cover and cook until the potatoes and carrots are tender (about 20-30 minutes).
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan and then add the flour. Stir and cook until the mixture is smooth and bubbly, but do not let it brown.
- Add the milk and immediately whisk the mixture to prevent lumps from forming. Continue whisking and heating until the mixture comes to a boil and gets thick.
- Add the white sauce and broccoli to the stew and stir to combine. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and cook over medium-low heat until the broccoli is tender. Be careful not to let the stew boil or the milk will curdle.
- Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.
Yield: 3-4 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.