One of the first jokes I heard when I moved up here to Boston sounds more like a mantra than the one-liner it is: If you don’t like the weather here in New England… wait 5 minutes. This week has, thus far, personified that way of life. The down-home-cooking pictured here was prepared by yours truly and served up on Monday night, after a long, dark, dreary, windy, extremely wet and surprisingly cold August day. Tuesday was patches of the same, interspersed with random periods of clear blue sky and warm breezes. But today… today it’s brilliant, cloudless, sunny, and HOT – a true summer day. I’ve gone from a long-sleeve sweater and sweatpants to tank-top and tap-pants in a matter of hours. So even though just thinking of turning on my oven today makes me all sweaty and anxious, I sure am happy I did to make Monday’s dinner – even if we were too sodden to shop, and so only used the few things we had in the house and a boner recently bought at our go-to ghetto grocery store, Johnny’s Foodmaster. But as this is Lolita’s riff on a standard chicken n’ dumplins, I did fancify it with a bit of ham and swiss cheese (stolen from Clayton’s luncheon meats supply) – just to make the mundane a bit more special. With a quick, two-ingredient salad and some garlicky “cheater” cheese muffins, this steaming hot and supremely satisfying pot-pie au gratin totally took the cold out of our bones, while culinarily combining our old Southern roots with our new Northern exposures. In the background, on the telly, Brigit Fonda is ostensibly contemplating killer crocodiles loose in Northern Maine (ala Lake Placid, a little gem of a movie), but she’s really thinking about the steaming chicken goodness just waiting under that crust of bubbly baked Swiss cheese. Back off, blondie! This bowl’s MINE.
1 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (about 1.5 lbs)
2 stalks celery
1 stick butter
1 qt chicken stock
1 package flour tortillas
fresh mozzarella cheese
white balsamic vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 can large buttermilk biscuits (yes, I used a can. Sue me.)
shredded romano cheese
Just as my butter started to froth, I placed my large washed, patted dry, salted, and peppered chicken breast skin down into the pan, and I let it sear for a good 10 minutes, until the skin was brown and crispy and the breast had started to cook through. Meanwhile, I peeled and chop my onion, carrots, and celery.
After the veggies softened slightly, I flipped my bird breast down again, added the quart of chicken stock to the pan, and using a wooden spatula to scrape up all the buttery fond, lowered the heat to medium, and put on the lid. I let my chicken cook for 30 minutes this way, trying hard not to keep lifting the lid to inhale the amazing aroma.
Although I know they’re likely full of preservatives and stuff, I have always loved bread from a can – from the light and flaky crescent rolls to the super Grande buttermilk biscuits. We try to keep a can on hand, just for days like Monday when going to the market just isn’t on the agenda. They’re great in a pinch. Still, as you may have seen before, dear reader, if you follow this blog, Lolita doesn’t like to just slap them on a cookie sheet — oh no! I do a little something something to make them extra special. A can comes with 8 biscuits; I used 4, and put the rest back in the fridge with the hope that I’d use them the next day (which I did, actually). I first cut them into quarters…
… then I tossed them with the dry ingredients into a large zipper bag: a few shakes of garlic powder (not garlic salt), and some shredded romano cheese (about 1/2 cup). I threw all this around until each little bread nugget was studded with flavor. I then added 2 tbs of melted butter, sealed the bag, and tossed it around some more to fully coat everything.
Four nuggets per tin transformed these biscuits into savory muffins, and an extra helping of cheese on top makeed them crisp up. See? “Cheater” muffins – not from scratch, but they taste like it! They took 15 minutes to bake on 350° — just as much time as I needed to bake off the casseroles, so I set them aside until I was ready.
After 30 minutes, my chicken was fully cooked through and ready to be pulled off the bone. Using tongs, I removed the breast from the pan, and set the heat to high so the chicken broth could continue to boil off and concentrate.
I carefully removed the meat from the bone, and it was luscious, juicy, and tender. I roughly chopped it, making sure to keep some of the flavorful skin attached, and blended what little dark rib meat there was with the abundant white meat.
Using the ramekins I planned to serve in as templates, I cut perfect little discs of tortillas out of their larger selves. My country mother-in-law revealed to me many years ago how well tortillas work in place of traditional dumplins – they have the same basic ingredients, and since they’re not dried like pasta-style dumplins, they don’t need as long to cook. (I could make them from scratch, but it wasn’t that kind of night.) They also create the unique texture one wants from the starch in this dish – soft and pillowy and a bit sticky.
These ramekins are 12 ouncers, I think (I don’t know why volume isn’t imprinted on the bottom of all kitchen items), just large enough for a decent sized dinner each. I buttered them down completely. I did the same with a large muffin pan, so I could cobble together my white-trash “cheater” cheese muffins.
Then, I fit a layer of tortilla over that, studded the tortilla with a handful of chicken, then drowned it in chicken stock and veggies. I repeated this layer about 5 times, until I reached the inner upper edge of the dish.
After that time, I pulled them out and happily saw that the top tortilla was fluffed and sodden but still intact, and that the edges had started to bubble over a bit. I layered one slice of ham on top of each ramekin…
… and two slices of Swiss cheese, allowing the edges to hang off, on top of that. I removed my muffins from the oven, turned the heat up to broil, then set my ramekins (on their cookie sheet, to make them easier to handle, and to keep the cheese from dripping) right under the heating element for 3-4 minutes.