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~ "Baba's Chicken": A Braised Casserole w/Gravy ~

IMG_6756My grandmother lived to be 98.  As the oldest granddaughter, who grew up living just nine miles from her, I found myself "glued to her side" quite a bit of the time, usually in her vegetable garden or kitchen.  Baba was a foodie before the word existed.  Her husband, my grandfather, was a coal miner in Coaldale, PA.  Baba stayed at home, raised three children, and, operated a neighborhood grocery store located on the street level of their three-story, single-family-dwelling.  These were two hard-working people, making the best of their lives in a times-are-tough era. Thankfully, they passed their work-ethic along to their children and grandchildren.

IMG_6491Photo:  My grandfather and my uncle (his son) in front of the family-owned grocery store and home, 148 East High Street, Coaldale, PA, circa 1942-ish.

I wish I could still call and ask Baba for her culinary advice, even if just to hear her quip remarks. At Christmas dinner 2006, when I asked her if she liked the way I prepared her recipe for the mushrooms, she was quick to tell me, "In my day, we went into the woods and picked our own mushrooms, we didn't buy shiitakes."  It meant she loved them!

My memories of Baba all revolve around food, which makes her my cooking mentor:

IMG_6500"Would you like to go outside to play or do you want to stay in the kitchen and help me?", Baba would ask.  I always chose the latter. Cooking was Baba's sport and she was a great coach.  At the ripe-old-age of 5, she had me kneading dough and using a small rolling pin. We had fun, but, it was respectful, responsible fun.  She didn't let me play in the dough or make a mess.  I was expected to serve what I cooked and cleanup afterward!

Photo:  My first apron (I was about 8 years old), circa 1963-ish!   

"If you don't clean up after yourself, you will never become a good cook.  No one is impressed by a disorganized, sloppy cook.  No one wants to eat anything cooked in a dirty kitchen.  Always set a nice table and wear a clean apron when serving."  ~ Baba

IMG_6789Up until I was 10 or 12 years old, our family ate a Walton-esque dinner (at lunch time) at Baba's house amost every Sunday after church.  Her Sunday menu didn't vary seasonally, and revolved around three main courses: chicken vegetable soup w/homemade noodles, pot roast w/mashed potatoes, or, "Baba's chicken" w/roasted vegetables!

IMG_6788Eventually Baba moved in with my parents, and, up until she could no longer physically cook (in her late eighties), these three meals remained on their Sunday-after-church menu.  I was in my thirties when, on one of my trips home to visit, I once again glued myself to her side, taking meticulous notes, as I watched her prepare her fabulous, fall-off-the-bone tender chicken and gravy casserole: 

IMG_6534For the chicken:

4  each:  chicken breast halves, legs, and thighs, on bones, trimmed of all visible fat

salt and black pepper, or freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

all-purpose flour, or Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

12  ounces finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

6  ounces finely-diced celery

6  ounces finely-diced carrot

6  tablespoons butter

2  tablespoons olive oil 

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2  cup white wine, or additional chicken stock, for deglazing pan

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_6778For the gravy:

4  tablespoons butter

1//4 teaspoon each:  salt and black pepper, or freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

1  teaspoon poultry seasoning

6  tablespoons all-purpose flour, or Wondra flour

2  cups chicken stock

1  teaspoon Gravy Master Seasoning & Browning Sauce, more or less, for color (optional)



~ Step 1.  This photo illustrates chicken before and after trimming. Using kitchen shears, trim and discard skin from all chicken pieces, then trim rib sections from breasts. Note:  This is a bit messy, so I like to place the chicken on a clean, white tall kitchen can-type bag while I work.  It makes cleanup a breeze!

IMG_6538~ Step 2.  Generously sprinkle the tops of the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and flour.  Allow to rest 20-30 minutes.  This waiting time will allow the flour to absorb moisture from the chicken, which will result in a crispier outside texture when the chicken is browning in the skillet.

~ Step 3.  While the chicken is resting, prep the onion, celery and carrot as directed above.

IMG_6561~ Step 4.  In a 14" chef's pan, melt 6 tablespoons of butter into 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat. Stir in the garlic powder and dried thyme.  Add the chicken pieces, floured side down.  Sprinkle the second side (now the top) of chicken with salt, pepper and flour. Adjust heat to saute, until chicken is golden on both sides, about 15 minutes per side, turning only once. Regulate heat during the process, so as to brown, not to scorch.

IMG_6621Step 5.  Spray a 4-quart casserole dish with no-stick spray.  Briefly turn the heat off.  Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and arrange them in the prepared casserole, in any manner that makes them fit.  

Note:  My chicken thighs ended up on top of the chicken breasts and legs today, and that is just fine.

Return the heat to medium-high.

IMG_6605 IMG_6599~ Step 6. Add the wine to the pan.  Using a spatula, deglaze the pan, by gently scraping and stirring, to loosen all of the browned bits and drippings from the bottom of the pan, 30-60 seconds. Do not be inclined to simmer this mixture any longer than it takes to loosen the browned bits.

IMG_6631 IMG_6607                                  ~ Step 7.  Add the onion, celery and carrots to the pan.  Adjust heat to saute, just until the onion softens and almost all of the liquid has evaporated from the bottom of the pan, about 5-6 minutes.  Do not be inclined to overcook the vegetables or allow the mixture to brown.  The veggies are going to continue to cook in the oven.

IMG_6638~ Step 8.  Remove pan from heat. Using a large spoon, transfer the vegetables from the pan to the chicken in the cassserole.  Take a moment or two to patiently work/distribute the vegetable mixture evenly around and in between the chicken pieces.

Return the pan to the stovetop.

IMG_6661~ Step 9.  Over low heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter.  Whisk in salt, pepper and poultry seasoning, followed by the flour.  Increase heat to medium-high and whisk constantly, until a smooth, thick, foamy roux forms, about 1 minute.

IMG_6667Step 10. Add the chicken stock, and...

IMG_6675 IMG_6669... adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, and, whisking almost constantly, cook until nicely thickened, about 3 minutes.  Drizzle in some Gravy Master.  This is not for taste, but for color.  You can skip adding the Gravy Master if you want to, but why would I skip a step in my Baba's recipe!  I would not!!!

IMG_6699 IMG_6682~ Step 11. Slowly drizzle all of the gravy from the pan over the chicken and vegetables in the casserole, giving it plenty of time to work its way down into all of the nooks and crannies.

IMG_6728Step 12.  Cover casserole with aluminum foil.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 2 hours.  Remove foil and bake for 30 additional minutes.  Casserole will be bubbling and chicken will be golden brown, and, fall-off-the bone-tender.  Remove from oven and rest 30 minutes prior to serving with mashed or roasted potatoes: 

IMG_6749"Baba's Chicken":  A Braised Casserole w/Gravy:  Recipe yields 8 servings (1 chicken breast, or, 1 leg and 1 thigh per person).

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides; 4-quart casserole dish; nonstick spatula; large spoon; aluminum foil

IMG_4266Cook's Note:  I'm serving my chicken (as pictured above) with mashed potatoes for our Sunday dinner today.  But, Baba almost always served this meal with roasted potatoes and carrots.  You can find my recipe for her ~ Two-for-One Effortless Side-Dishes: Roasted Caraway-Seeded Carrots & Red Potatoes ~ in Categories 4, 12, 19 or 20!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


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Thank-you for the lovely comment Cyndy! I look forward to hearing more from you my foodie friend!!!

This is one awesome lady with fantastic recipes and really seeems down to earth and loves cooking as much as me!!

Thanks so much Trisha! This was a fun post to write -- not to mention the food afterword. We just love this meal!

I enjoyed reading your trip down memory lane, and the photos, once again, are fantastic! LOVE your tasty recipes!

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