Monday, May 17, 2010

Country Recipe for Sunday Dinner

My son requested I include this very old recipe to my blog. I think because he knew when I cooked it he would be invited to dinner. It's a recipe from his father's side of the family.
Many years ago while visiting my son's grandmother, I walked into her kitchen to find her preparing a dish I had never heard of before. The smell in her kitchen was amazing; filled with the aroma of chicken frying and fresh vegetables. She asked if I'd like to have lunch, so my next question was to ask what she was cooking. Her reply, "Butter Beans and Chicken". But as I observed she was using a method totally unfamiliar to me.

I was curious about the whole process and paid close attention to her busying about the stove while she browned the chicken and simmered the fresh butter beans. When the pot lid was placed on the Dutch oven, I began asking questions about this unusual recipe. She told me that her mother, who was of Cajun French descent, had taught her to cook as a young child and this was a very old recipe she had learned so long ago. She told me she still loved to prepare it when the butter beans were fresh from the garden and her brooder of young chicken's were fryer size. I was sure I'd love the dish, this lady was a very good cook and the appetizing flavor wafting about the house was another clue.

We sat down to the dinner table that day with cornbread, sliced tomatoes, sweet iced tea and several other tastes of summer. Such is the Southern table at its best. My first taste of Butter Beans and Chicken was like tasting a new version of etouffee, each ingredient lending its savory best to the other; the "smothering" style of cooking always means big flavor. The chicken having been browned with a very light dusting of flour gave the pot liqueur a slight thickness and intensity. Not a complicated dish, to be sure, but I think I ate more than usual that day and definitely enjoyed every bite. This kind of cooking truly expresses my culinary approach to great food, well-prepared, simple, natural. It was one of the best meals I've ever had.

Butter Beans and Chicken

1 small chicken (cut into pieces)

Black Pepper
Garlic Powder
All-purpose flour
3 slices salt pork or bacon (cut into small lardon)
3 cups fresh butter beans (or frozen if fresh is not in season)

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and garlic powder and set aside. Into a large Dutch oven add a about 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer. Add the salt pork to the water and cook until the water is completely evaporated and the salt pork is beginning to brown, then remove to a plate. Very lightly dredge the chicken pieces in the flour and shake off the excess. Add a small amount of oil to the same Dutch oven and brown the chicken on all sides; do not cook completely. Remove to a plate. Pour off the excess oil and add the butter beans. Stir and add enough water to cover the beans; add the salt pork back to the pot. Season the beans lightly with salt and pepper and cook until they are just beginning to tender. Layer the chicken pieces over the top of the beans and cover. Cook on low/medium heat for about 30 minutes or until the beans are completely done. *

* I used a combination of green butter beans and speckled this time, but that isn't necessary, you may use whichever you prefer or both, as I did.

The day I cooked this for my son he brought some freshly dug "new" potatoes that a friend had given him. So we boiled them in their tender skin to serve buttered alongside the main dish. I think they were my favorite part of the whole meal. The taste of any vegetable fresh from the garden is beyond scrumptious. Add a little grind of salt and pepper and there's nothing better. I baked cornbread and sliced ripe tomato and cucumber to round out this "country" meal. My baby grandson said, "Nanny, these are the best butter beans I've ever had". The oldest grandson can't get enough tomatoes and my son...well he loved everything. A good day...

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