What’s for dinner: Best Chicken Stew

thebestchickenstew_cooksillustratedPhoto from Cooks Illustrated.
(My end result looks way different, as you’ll see.)

You’d think that the week of Thanksgiving, I’d want to lie low, culinarily, and save all the effort for Thursday.

But I’ve been wanting to try what Cooks Illustrated had termed the “Best Chicken Stew” ever since my new issue arrived. And because it had rained for the past few days and the temperatures dropped all the way down into the 40s at night, it seemed like the perfect time to try a hearty dish and simultaneously heat up the house by using the stove and the oven.

Cost of ingredients: $31.55 for the bacon, chicken wings, chicken thighs, chicken broth, bacon, red potatoes, celery, onion, carrots, parsley and thyme. I already had the soy sauce, wine (duh), flour, garlic, butter and even anchovy paste (left over from making this Warm Shrimp and Escarole Salad). Is bacon always on the expensive side? If I had some lying around already, the total would have been $9 cheaper.

Substitutions: None — I followed this one to the letter.

Early on: Wings browned in bacon fat; onions, celery and garlic simmering away; carrots and potatoes waiting patiently.

Early on: Wings browned in bacon fat; onions, celery and garlic simmering away; broth, wine, carrots and butter waiting patiently.

As easy as they said? Well, yes, in that each step is simple to follow. But there are a lot of steps: splitting the wings; trimming and halving the chicken thighs (and then putting them aside for like an hour); cooking bacon; removing bacon and browning the wings; removing the wings and simmering the aromatics; adding the wine and broth; putting the wings and bacon back in, then popping the dish in the oven; taking it out of the oven to add everything else over high heat;  turning it around and putting it right back in the oven again. (For the next few months, you can watch a video of the recipe on the Cooks Illustrated website; it shows you all the steps but doesn’t share the quantity of any ingredients.)

Let’s put it this way: I started this before 7 p.m., and was finally able to eat around 9. Only about 40 minutes of that wasn’t hands-on time. (Side note: I’m not sure why the instructions start with turning on the oven, when it sits unoccupied for a good 40 minutes while you attend to the browning and stewing that must be done first. It doesn’t take that long for an oven to reach 325.)

chickenstew_cooksillustrated_finished

Mine ended up much more brown than Cooks Illustrated’s finished product.

How’d THAT go over? Tasty enough, I guess. Whether it’s the absolute best chicken stew can be remains debatable. The Cooks Illustrated folks always go on and on about the Maillard reaction (aka: browning) and the added flavor it brings, and yet look at that photo way up top there. Does anything look browned to you? It also doesn’t look like they used the full amount of flour recommended for that recipe, either; they refer to the liquid as “gravy” but it’s sure on the translucent side.

My finished dish, meanwhile, ended up almost the same color that beef stew would be, and much more opaque. (See photo above right.) Maybe I “over-Maillarded” it? It doesn’t taste off, though — and it still tastes like chicken. Speaking of the meat, I ended up using forks to pull apart the cooked thighs, which were mostly intact and huge.

Would I make it again? Probably not this incarnation; I could see trying to create an easier version. Really, when you think about it, it’s chicken in a pot with vegetables, and I don’t think the amount of hands-on work created an end product that was notably more exceptional than what the average cook could cobble together by leaving something simmering on the stove for half a day.

WHAT SAM WORE: 11/24/13
shirt032712 pants011111 shoes031511
The shirt: Long-sleeved sueded cotton T-shirts, on clearance at Hollister.
The pants: BDg jeans, from Urban Outfitters in Tempe.
The shoes: Suede high-tops, from the Nike outlet store in Anthem.
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