Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cajun Chicken and Rice

The weather's cooling down here and the leaves are turning, and I'm craving soups and stews and warm things.  I saw okra in the store yesterday and was immediately inspired to make something rib-stickingly cajun.  We had other plans for dinner, so I put that thought on hold-- and when I went to pick up ingredients this evening on the way home the okra was gone : (  Undaunted, I gathered celery, onion, bell peppers (Aussie 'capsicum') and a pre-roasted chicken and improvised.
Southern Spoon blog: Cajun Chicken and Rice
cajun chicken and rice
(pardon the un-aesthetic photo quickly snapped before dinner!)
After sauteing the chopped veggies with the spices, I poured in some chicken broth and a mixture of cornstarch and water to thicken the mixture.  If you do have okra, add a cup of the chopped vegetable, and halve the amount of cornstarch and water. The mixture will thicken naturally due to the slightly gooey insides of the cooked okra.  (Rather than cornstarch+water, you could add a teaspoon of filĂ© powder if you have it on hand-- the dried, finely-ground sassafras leaves are often used to thicken up gumbo.)  I used a pre-roasted chicken for convenience, but you could also use raw chicken breasts or boneless thighs, adding them after the onions have sauteed for a few minutes.  Sear the chicken for a few minutes on each side, then add the other vegetables and continue to cook as specified below.  Shrimp would also make a tasty substitute.
Southern Spoon blog: Louisiana Wedding
My brother and his wife's perfect Louisiana wedding
My grandfather grew up in a tiny town in Louisiana, and much of my extended family are scattered throughout the state.  I love the seafood and lovingly-prepared home cooking that we enjoy every time we visit.  Exactly a year ago last weekend my brother married a wonderful girl who also has family roots in Louisiana.  A Gatsby-esque estate in Shreveport served as the perfect backdrop for their beautiful, laid-back garden wedding and fabulous reception (complete with every cajun dish you can imagine, spiked sweet tea, and a zydeco band).  Preparing this meal tonight reminded me of what a great time we had celebrating their marriage : )

Make sure you have Tabasco on hand, and laissez les bons temps rouler!

Cajun Chicken and Rice
makes 4 to 5 hearty servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (rice bran works well)
1 yellow onion, coursely chopped
3 large stalks of celery, coursely chopped (to make about 1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, coursely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coursely chopped
1 cup of sliced button mushrooms (and/ or 1 cup chopped okra)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (I used a bird's eye chili)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprkia
1/2 teaspoon dried fennel seeds, crushed
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch (cornflour) + 1 tablespoon water, whisked smooth 
freshly ground sea salt and pepper
1-2 teaspoons Tabasco hot sauce (plus more for serving)
4-5 large pieces of chicken from a pre-roasted chicken (bones removed)
3 cups cooked rice (white, brown, or a mixture of both)
lemon wedges to serve (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute for  4-5 minutes, until it begins to brown.  (If you are using raw chicken, add the chicken pieces now, searing on either side for 2 minutes per side, then leaving the chicken in the skillet while you cook the other veggies).  Add the celery and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Add the bell peppers and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes, until the peppers and celery are slightly softened.  Add the mushrooms (and/or okra) and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic, chili, parsley, oregano, paprika, and crushed fennel seeds, tossing the vegetables for about a minute so that they are evenly coated with the spices.  

Pour in the chicken broth and cornflour+water mixture, stirring carefully. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes to allow the liquid to thicken slightly. Season with Tabasco, freshly ground sea salt, and pepper to taste. Add the pre-roasted chicken pieces, turning them carefully to coat them evenly with the sauce.  Turn down the heat to low and stir until the chicken is warmed.   

Place each chicken piece over a serving of rice, topping with the vegetable mixture.  Serve with Tabasco (necessary) and lemon wedges (optional). 

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