Chicken Stew with Shallots, Cider and Butternut Squash

It’s getting cold here in Central Virginia.  Perfect soup and stew weather.  I’ve had a butternut squash in the basket for a couple of weeks now and keep meaning to get to it.  Tonight is the night.  I just wanted to make something other than the traditional butternut squash bisque style soup with ginger and topped with creme fraiche.  This is a good hearty stew with a lovely warm flavor.  In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that this stew has curry in it.  I’ve always thought that if there’s curry the recipe title should say so.  People tend to have strong feelings about curry.  The recipe recommends a serving of rice on the side.  Feel free, but I don’t think you need it.

I read all the way through this recipe and almost skipped it because it looked like it was going to take about 2 1/2 hours by the time I did the chopping and the cooking.  It has a 5 star rating so I decided to read the comments before I punted it completely.  Good thing.  In the comments I learned that the simmering only takes 40 minutes and it actually took only 30.  Much better than the 95 minutes indicated in the recipe.  I did my chopping yesterday in order to save myself some time tonight.  (More about that in a minute).  Tonight it took me about 45 minutes from the time I stepped into the kitchen to the time I sat down to eat.  Not so bad.

The chopping is the worst part of this.  I hate peeling winter squash.  It’s hard – as in not easy and as in not soft.  I still don’t have anything close to an efficient method so please share if you do.  Usually I cut a butternut in half longways; scoop out the seedy goop;  cut it in long pieces 1-2 inches wide.  Then I cut those pieces into 3-4 inch lengths; stand them on end; and trim the peel off.  Then I can cut the peeled pieces into 1 inch “cubes.”  Then I moved on to the chicken thighs.  A quick shout out here to Davis Creek Farm for the yummy pasture raised chicken and to Relay Foods for getting it to me with a level of convenience that we all dream about.  My best advice here is to buy boneless thighs.  I don’t normally recommend boneless chicken because there’s more flavor when you cook chicken on the bone and it’s cheaper to buy it that way too.  In the case of thighs, they have more flavor than breasts anyway and it’s totally worth the extra money.  Cutting the meat off of a thigh bone, at least the way I do it, is tedious and sloppy and not too thorough.  I used the leftover bones to make a little stock.  The chopping of the shallots, chicken and butternut squash took me about 40 minutes.  I’m glad I did it yesterday.

That left the cooking (and the washing of all the dishes I used to store my pre-chopped elements) for tonight.  In order to make this stock and water based dish thicker than a soup you coat the chicken pieces in flour before cooking and also add a flour and stock slurry that will thicken as it simmers.  The texture is smooth and wonderful.  One thing to keep in mind is that the flour sucks up the seasonings that you add.  I ended up more than doubling the curry powder; adding half again the amount of salt and adding 1/4 tsp of cayenne to add a little extra bite.  If you use a hot curry pwder you might not need the cayenne.  I used 2 teaspoons of a yellow curry powder that I got in Grenada about a month ago plus another 1/2 teaspoon of my homeade curry powder.  In terms of the cooking I recommend that you follow the directions below rather than the ones in the original.  Note that in the recipe below I’ve already adjusted the spice amounts as well. The chicken pieces are small and they get browned so there’s just no need to cook them 40 minutes before you add the squash.  And the squash pieces are small so it shouldn’t take 55 minutes for them to cook.  You want the butternut squash to be fork tender, but not to be mushy.  Once you bring the stew to a boil it takes about 30 minutes.  You’ll want to stir occasionally.  This stew base is similar in construction to a milk gravy so stirring it will keep it from getting that skin on the top.

In reading the comments for this recipe I noticed that a few folks didn’t use the hard cider. I’m not sure why not.  I think it added a nice depth of flavor.  Admittedly I know nothing about hard cider.  I stood in front of the case at my local wine and beer shop for about 10 minutes trying to choose.  I settled on Crispin Natural Hard Cider because they don’t add malt, sugar, other juices or preservatives.  That seemed like the best way to get a straightforward hard cider flavor on the dry side.  That’s what you’re looking for – the dryness.  You don’t want to add a lot of sweetness to this.

My guess is that this stew will be even better tomorrow.  I’ll keep you posted!

Good? Really good.  Warm and smooth and yummy.
Easy? Not too. The chopping is a pain. Flour goes everywhere. It takes a while to get it all done.
Good for company? Yep. I think you could probably do it all the day before and just heat it up for company.
Special shopping? Get a good curry powder or make your own.

Chicken Stew with Shallots, Cider and Butternut Squash

Ingredients

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 cup sliced shallots (about 6 medium)
2-3 teaspoons curry powder
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups fermented dry cider
2 cups chicken broth, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup water
2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 pound)

Directions

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 5 minutes or until tender and golden brown. Add curry powder; sauté 1 minute. Spoon shallot mixture into a large bowl.
Place 1/3 cup flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add half of chicken mixture; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Add browned chicken to shallot mixture. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken mixture, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
Add cider to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Combine 1 cup broth and 1 tablespoon flour, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Add broth mixture, remaining broth, and water; bring to a boil. Stir in chicken mixture, squash, remaining teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cayenne. Simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes or until chicken and squash are very tender and sauce thickens.

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One Response to “Chicken Stew with Shallots, Cider and Butternut Squash”

  1. 1womanskitchen Says:

    This stew absolutely got better. I ate every bite of the leftovers!

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