There are so many places that my husband and I want to visit. Some of them (like the Grand Canyon) are for more nature/scenic related reasons, but some of them are more for food/cultural reasons. New Orleans is definitely one of those places. I love Cajun and Creole food like jambalaya, gumbo, and more. We have a fabulous New Orleans Bistro near us called Shango that makes delicious food and utilizes a lot of local food sources. So we go there when the craving for Cajun food strikes, or sometimes I try to make some on my own such as this dish. This recipe comes from a very lovely cookbook called Harvest to Heat. The original recipe called for using beef, but I opted for chicken. I also read a lot about the difference between polenta and grits.... suffice it to say that I had a bag of stoneground cornmeal and that's what I used to make my grits, for better or worse. I couldn't find any that were specifically called grits, but these did the job and were so delicious.
This turned out to be one of our favorite meals we've eaten lately. It was so packed full of flavor and spice with a good amount of heat. The cheese grits (er, polenta?), were so creamy and they countered the spicy sauce and chicken perfectly. While we haven't taken our trip to New Orleans yet, at least we know we have great meals like this to transport us to another place for a while. This meal will serve about four people and below is the adapted recipe.
Creole chicken with cheddar-scallion grits
for the chicken and sauce:
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/2 teaspoon powdered onion
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1.25-1.5 lbs. in total)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 sweet yellow or white onion, finely diced
4 scallions whites, thinly sliced (save greens for grits)
1 stalk celery, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (~14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
hot sauce (preferably Franks), to taste
for the grits:
1 cup stoneground cornmeal
5 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
4 scallions greens, thinly sliced
Mix together the spices (smoked paprika to oregano) with the flour until well combined. Measure out 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture and set aside. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and then dredge the chicken in the flour until completely covered, shaking off excess flour.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the chicken, Cook until browned, about 3-4 minutes, and then flip and cook the other side until browned. Remove from the skillet and set aside on a plate. Add the onion, scallion, and celery to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until soft and golden. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the reserved tablespoon of flour mixture. Stir well and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, thyme, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and return the chicken to the skillet. Cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through (this will vary depending on their size and thickness). Season with salt and pepper and then add hot sauce to taste.
While the chicken is cooking, make the grits. Bring salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan. When boiling, add the grits and whisk well to keep them smooth. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook, stirring often to make sure they aren't sticking, until they are thickened and soft, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, milk, cheddar, and scallion greens.
Serve the chicken and a good scoop of sauce with the cheese grits. Garnish with more scallion greens, if desired.
What was I cooking one year ago?: Korean marinated beef lettuce wraps
Two years ago?: cauliflower and broccoli stuffed manicotti