After this week you might be forgiven for thinking that we’ve changed our name to Mastering the Art of French Carroting, or perhaps Babette’s Carrot.* The prominence of carrots in the last three posts was pure happenstance, answers to the question: What do we like to cook in the pressure cooker? Turns out carrots figure in a lot of what we like, including this week’s recipe, Oliver’s Chicken Stew.
Oliver is our son, now a Brooklyn hipster and aspiring documentary filmmaker, but once an infant, with a writer dad working at home and a chef mom, who was not. Jody took pity on the two of us, since I was trying to get my sea legs as a father, and needed something that I could just ladle out of the fridge and reheat in the brief lacunae between bottle nuking and diaper changes (don’t think about that too hard). Oliver’s Chicken Stew was born. When Oliver grew old enough to reliably hold his old bowl he and I would “have a picnic” on Friday nights, i.e. sit on our platform bed while spooning chicken, carrots and leeks into our mouths and watching Stark Trek on the bedroom tv.** When we graduated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, we brought the stew with us.
Oliver’s Chicken Stew is still a regular on our table. Tarragon gives it an elegant French spin that lives somewhere between licorice and fennel. Don’t let the photo of the pile of ingredients intimidate you. Basically everything gets dumped into the pot (or in this case, the pressure cooker). It is, by far, the most requested recipe from our book. Next week is a carrot-free zone, I promise. Enjoy. Ken
*After a glass of wine there’s something inherently absurd about carrots in literary titles. A Carrot in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Bleak Carrot, Carrot and Carrot Juice. Even European movie titles aren’t immune: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, Her Carrot; The 400 Carrots; I Carretoni; or. . . you get the drift. Send me your best ones (1 per person, please–yes, I’m talking to you).
**A sad day when we finally had to tell Oliver that the meaning of the word “picnic” was not, alas, “to sit in bed eating while watching science fiction.” Our family still uses “having a picnic” to mean eating in front of the tv.
Oliver’s Chicken Stew, in a pressure cooker
If you’re the sort of cook who likes getting a head start on things, assemble all of the ingredients before prepping them. Rinse and dry the chicken, season the inside and out with salt and pepper, then place the lemon zest and thyme sprigs in the chicken cavity. Let the chicken rest, giving the seasonings a a little extra time to work their magic while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
- 1 4-pound organic chicken
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 springs fresh thyme + 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lemon cut in half + zest from one of the lemon halves
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal
- 1 head celery, stalks peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal
- 1 bunch leeks, white and light green parts only, about 2 pounds, cut into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal, washed in warm water to remove sand
- 1 head garlic, smashed and cloves peeled
- ½ cup stellini or other soup pasta
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 6 thick slices crusty rustic bread
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Rinse the bird and pat dry. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Put the thyme sprigs, one bay leaf and the lemon zest into the cavity of the bird. Allow to sit 15 minutes or so as you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Put the bird, breast side up, on a trivet in the pressure cooker. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, the thyme leaves and remaining bay leaf. Pour the stock over the bird. Lock the lid in place, turn the heat to medium-high. When the pressure reaches high, lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes at high pressure. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the pressure to release naturally. It will take about 10 minutes.
- Carefully remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot (the vegetables will be very soft). Put the vegetables in a dish, cover and keep warm. Let the chicken cool on its own plate or shallow pan. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and pull the meat off the bones in large pieces. Discard the skin and bones.
- Remove the trivet from the pot. (I use the tines of a fork.) Put the pot back on the heat and simmer until the broth has reduced by about a cup. Taste and continue simmering if it’s watery.
- 10 minutes before serving, bring the broth up to a boil, add the pasta, stirring now and then and cook to al dente. Whisk in the butter, squeeze the juice from the lemons into the pot, then add the tarragon and parsley. Return the chicken to the pot and heat through.
- Toast the bread and then brush with olive oil. Sprinkle each slice with cheese. Set 1 cheese toast in each of four warm deep dinner plates. Add some vegetables, ladle the stew over everything and serve.
Oliver’s Chicken Stew was first published over 20 years ago in the Boston Globe Magazine in an article by Sheryl Julian, Boston Globe food editor. It was a recipe I was making at the time for my toddler son, Oliver, who is now 25. I was also serving it at Michela’s, the restaurant where I was chef. It was a huge hit and to this day, people will stop me to talk about the recipe.
Fast forward 20 years. I was leading a cooking-bike trip in Umbria and conversation turned to favorite recipes. My new friend Kay, who I had only recently gotten to know, told me that her two grown daughters still asked for one of two family recipes when they were at home. A lasagna recipe and a chicken stew recipe, that was kind of a pain in the neck because it had so many steps, and was named for someone’s kid. It was Oliver.
This recipe has had a 20+ year life of it’s own. It has raised children, brought friends together, comforted ailing parents and friends and was a staple for our family. I hope you incorporate it into your life if you haven’t already.
We’ve taken some of the “pain-in-the-neck” factor out of the recipe by using a pressure cooker to speed up the cooking. It works well. The veggies are comfortingly soft. If you want them firmer, cook the chicken without the vegetables, and while it’s cooling, add the vegetables to the pot, cook 2-3 minutes on high pressure, then use the quick release method, by running the lid under cold water, to stop the cooking. Remove them from the pot and proceed as above.