Chicken stew

When you grow up eating a certain dish, you may not realize that it’s not something known all over. It may, in fact, be a regional dish specific only to where you were raised. This could be the case with our chicken stew here in Yadkin County. From what I can tell from polling friends near and far, our version of chicken stew is specific to Yadkin, Surry and Stokes counties.

My dad, who grew up in Forsyth County in Winston-Salem, said he never had chicken stew until he met my mom, a native of East Bend. A friend told me her husband is from Lewisville, which is also in Forsyth County, and he had chicken stew growing up. So it’s possible there are little pockets in other nearby counties where this dish is also enjoyed.

As any native Yadkin County resident knows, chicken stew is a soup made from chicken broth, milk, butter, plenty of salt and pepper and served with saltine crackers. The term chicken stew can also refer not only to the soup itself, but to a gathering of friends and family enjoying the soup.

“In Yadkin County where I grew up, [chicken stew] means an event — family, friends and neighbors gather on a cool fall evening to share the stew, which is cooked in a big black pot over a fire. The stew itself is simple — chicken, water, milk, butter, seasoning. The event also could include wieners roasted over the fire, and plenty of desserts contributed by everyone. Each person is also encouraged to bring his own bowl. Of course, the stew can also be cooked in the kitchen, which my mama often did for winter Sunday dinners. It was just as delicious, but without the fellowship of a large gathering outdoors,” explained my friend Gray.

For non-Yadkin natives, this dish and event are often confusing. My friend Bill who grew up in Elkin, but in the Wilkes County section, said he did not grow up eating or going to chicken stews and once he figured out what a chicken stew is, he now avoids them at all cost.

“I can’t get too excited about an evening whose high point will be a bowl of hot, chicken-infused milk with a few saltines and maybe some hot sauce as a last desperate attempt at flavor,” Bill said. “Chicken stew, which is a misnomer, by the way, a stew is a thick, hearty, chunky soup, is pretty lame even as a first course. As a complete meal, it’s totally unacceptable. I am completely baffled by its popularity.”

For those who do love a chicken stew, it can become a quandary if they move away to a non-chicken stew serving locale. Nicholas told me that growing up in Yadkinville, chicken stew was just a normal part of life.

“It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle in my twenties that I realized it was a local tradition,” Nicholas said. “I would ask my coworkers if they knew of anyone hosting a chicken stew and they would look at me like I was crazy. It was difficult even to find any information online. I ended up having to call friends and family in NC to tell me how to make my own.”

My research at first was leading me to believe that chicken stew was only found in Yadkin County, but thanks to Jessica, I know that Surry and Stokes county folks enjoy it as well.
“I love chicken stew!” Jessica Johnson told me. “It is a milk-based stew with shredded chicken. There are no veggies or other meats added. Usually served with regular saltine crackers, salt, and pepper. I’ve had one that had red pepper flakes in it and it was good, but that is not the traditional way to make it. I grew up in Surry County — graduated from North Surry High School. I grew up eating it at church suppers, get-togethers, and fundraisers in Surry and Stokes County.”
Jessica J. also said that Stokes County hosts the World Championship Chicken Stew every year at a park in King.
“It’s awesome and you get to sample a ton of different chicken stews made by local organizations and church groups and then vote for your favorite,” she said.

My friends who grew up in the eastern part of the state were a bit confused about our chicken stew.
“Is that the same as chicken bog?” asked my sorority sister Jessica W. I told her I wasn’t sure, because I had never heard of chicken bog.

“Chicken bog is a big deal in Robeson County, but maybe that’s because we’re on the NC/SC border,” Jessica W. told me. “My dad usually adds onions, green peppers, carrots and mushrooms in with the chicken, smoked sausage, and rice. Delish! We also cook it outside in the big black pot. I swear it tastes better that way! We usually make a big pot of chicken bog whenever we have a big family gathering.”

My sorority sister Jessica F. also said chicken bog was popular in Pender and Onslow counties as well.

Donna, who grew up in Cary, said she was more familiar with Brunswick stew.
“The best must be made with hens, no males allowed. Full of chicken, butter beans, corn and vegetables. The best is from Nash County where my grandparents lived,” Donna said of Brunswick stew.

My godmother Connie also said she was a fan of Brunswick stew.
“In the Eastern part of NC, Roxboro, where I grew up, church groups and civic organizations in the fall would make huge cast iron pots of Brunswick stew to sell for fundraisers,” Connie said. “The women in the group would cook the meat and supply all the ingredients the day before and the men would stay up all night cooking the stew in the black cast iron pots outside over an open fire. They used long wooden paddles to stir the stew continuously while it was cooking so that it wouldn’t stick or burn on the bottom.”

So just how did the chicken stew specific to our area come to be? Luann said she has a good idea.
“Our family would have chicken stews at the end of tobacco season. I think it was an inexpensive way to celebrate completing the harvest because most families had chickens,” Luann said. “My Dad’s sister and her husband, in East Bend, always had them in the fall after all the tobacco was finished. They had huge cast iron pots and cooked the chickens over an outdoor fire. Sometimes we also had oyster stew in a smaller cast iron pot. All the families brought sides, desserts, drinks, etc. My Mother’s family, the Kimmers, in Jonesville, also had them but not as traditionally as the Williams family. That was a fall tradition. Our chicken stew was whole chickens cut up and stewed in water, butter and seasonings to make the broth with milk added for the stew. I remember having stew with no thickening added and having stew with a flour slurry (they call it now) to thicken the milk/broth. We always had saltine crackers with it. The meat was left on the bone and you tried to get a drumstick/thigh/breast in your bowl of stew. It just seems to taste so much better when cooked over an open fire with family!”

I think Luann is right on the money about chicken stew stemming from an inexpensive way to feed a lot of people. A number of meals that hail from another time came about in this manner and I think this is definitely the case with our chicken stew.
Glenda found a great article for us that indicates that chicken stew actually originated in northern Georgia, where it is known as chicken mull. You can find an in-depth article on the subject at http://www.seriouseats.com.

What I ate on my summer vacation

Remember the first day back at school in the fall and the assignment was to write about what you did on your summer vacation? Well, summer is just getting started, but here’s what I’ve done so far. More accurately, in keeping with our food theme here at Kitsey’s Kitchen, here is what I ate while on vacation.

I’ve been a beach girl from a young age. As a child and teenager my summer vacation was always in the Myrtle Beach area. A few years ago, however, I visited Beaufort, North Carolina, and fell absolutely in love with it. I’ve vacationed on the Crystal Coast near Beaufort, Morehead City and Atlantic Beach ever since.

Mainly my vacation consisted of sitting on the beach staring out at mother ocean, walking on the sand and reading. Aside from actually being at the beach, my other favorite part of vacation is going out to eat.

My dad is an avid fisherman and as a child we often had fish frys at our house. In those days I even ate frog legs! Then I went through a phase where I was kind of weirded out about seafood, unless it was your basically basic tiny tasteless popcorn shrimp. After I started going to some of the nicer restaurants on the Crystal Coast, however, I began to learn to love all sorts of seafood. After having to dissect a frog in eighth-grade biology, I still can’t bring myself to eat frog legs though.

Frog legs were on the menu down at the coast last week, however, and my dad ordered them one night at one of my all-time favorite restaurants — Floyd’s 1921. Floyd’s is in a beautiful old home in Morehead City and serves up great southern favorites like meatloaf alongside some seaside favorites. My personal favorite dish at Floyd’s is their mahi mahi. I order mine blackened. It comes atop fried green tomatoes with tasso ham gravy. Floyd’s is one of those places I go all on on the menu. I want a cocktail (the Big Daddy Dirty martini), an appetizer (the mac and cheese), soup (she-crab bisque), my entree (the mahi), with wine and dessert. I’m usually miserable by the time I leave, but it’s worth it.

I’ll pause here for a moment on the seafood to tell you about tasso ham gravy, probably one of my favorite things ever. I actually discovered tasso ham gravy at the beach at my other all-time favorite restaurant Amos Mosquitos in Atlantic Beach. Amos Mosquitos is almost always packed, it’s a popular place on the beach and it’s well worth the wait, locals and regulars often refer to it simply as Skeeters. Quaintly decorated with various mosquito-themed objects, dried Spanish moss hangs from branches on the walls and ceiling and there is even a soundtrack of evening insect noises that plays in the bathroom. You have to love a place that gives that much attention to detail in keeping with their theme.

The first time I ever ate there, probably about seven or eight years ago, I ordered their fried pork chop with tasso ham gravy. Now what possessed me to order pork chops I don’t even know because truthfully it’s not a menu item I normally care that much about. I must have had some sort of magical food intuition telling me how good this dish was going to be. The pork chops themselves are thin and so tender they practically fall apart at the touch of a fork. The breading is so delightfully crispy with just the perfect blend of seasoning and then there is the gravy. Ah, the gravy. Tasso ham is a Cajun thing. It’s a cut of pork cured in various seasonings and smoked. The outside of the ham is red with all the spices it is cured with. Using this as your fat to make a gravy or even a pasta sauce is just out of this world. Now when I go to Skeeters I ask the server just to bring me a vat of the gravy and nothing else. They laugh at me, but in a way, I’m really not even kidding.

Tasso is not something readily available around here, although I have found it at Whole Foods before. I typically buy at least two and then slice it into smaller portions which I shrink wrap and freeze for later. You can also find it on the website CajunGrocer.com. The combination of the pork, breaded in such delightful seasonings and the spicy and creamy gravy, well, as you can tell, I could go on and on about it. Though it’s not seafood, it’s pretty much my favorite meal when I go to Atlantic Beach. Skeeter’s mojitos are also great and then they have tiny little fire pits they bring right to your table if you order the s’mores for dessert. It’s just overall such a fun place. If you visit the area and go there, tell them I sent you!

Shrimp, flounder and crab legs were other dishes we enjoyed while at the beach last week. My dad’s favorite place is called Ruddy Ducks and it’s right on the Morehead City waterfront. Their shrimp basket is one of the best deals in the area and great quality food. Their fish tacos are my favorite and their burgers are also terrific. If you like a cocktail with your meal, I suggest the Pain Killer.
Another place I had heard about for years, but never tried is a little drive-in dinner called the Big Oak Drive-In. It’s right near the beach in the Salter Path area of Atlantic Beach. They’re famous for their shrimp burger — fried shrimp on a bun with ketchup, tartar sauce and slaw. We finally tried it this trip. We had onion rings and fries and gobbled up those shrimp burgers as fast as we could.

Channel Marker and McCurdy’s are two of our other favorite places in the area. We always get the crab legs at McCurdy’s and they are always great. Flounder at Channel Marker is my favorite and I love their twice baked stuffed potato as well.

As mentioned above, tasso ham is not an easy ingredient to find in our area, but if you should manage to get your hands on some, here’s a recipe for a tasso ham pasta sauce. Truthfully I would put tasso in everything if I could. I have put it in spaghetti sauce, chili, gumbo and even vegetable soup. It’s just a great seasoning to bring a little spice to any dish.

Kitsey and Morgan’s Tasso Pasta
• 8 oz. of tasso, diced into small cubes
• butter
• 3 to 4 tbsp. flour
• 1 shallot finely minced
• 2 cloves garlic finely minced
• 2 cups chicken broth
• 3/4 cup heavy cream
• salt and pepper to taste
• Parmesan cheese to taste
Add a good-sized pat of butter to a sauce pan and on medium heat begin adding your diced tasso bits. Brown ham slowly until the fat is rendered. Add shallot and cook until translucent. Add garlic and sauté just a minute. Slowly add flour, whisking to make a roux. Once flour has incorporated, slowly add chicken broth. The mixture will begin to thicken, then slowly add cream and mix until incorporated into a thick creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste and grate in a small amount of Parmesan cheese (or a larger amount if that’s your thing.) Serve over your favorite pasta. If you are able to get your hands on some fresh mahi mahi, this dish would also make a great accompaniment.

Kitchen Roselli

Dining out with my love is one of my all time favorite things! This weekend we enjoyed a meal at one
of our favorite local restaurants, Kitchen Roselli. I love going here to eat not only because the food is excellent, but I love the atmosphere.

A few years ago, a lovely couple renovated one of our last remaining historical buildings and turned it into a restaurant. I was thrilled because I used to work in this building when it was a “General Store” that sold everything from bib overalls to  Christmas knick knacks. The building was also featured once in a short film called Two Soldiers that won an Academy award!

Their menu is flavorful and hearty Italian fare. When we dined there this week they were featuring a steak special. I do adore a filet mignon! I devoured every delicious bite
of this little beauty that was cooked to perfection in a red wine and mushroom sauce.

Morgan enjoyed a hearty pasta dish, which unfortunately I did not take a picture of because I was too intent on eating my own meal.

My steak was also accompanied by a side of spaghetti, which was also delightful.

 

To compliment our meal, we enjoyed a bottle of wine  (as we often do!) Morgan discovered this wine when we dined at Roselli’s back in April and it is now one of our favorites. We are big supporters, and by supporters I mean drinkers, of Yadkin Valley wine, but we try not to be snobbish about wines not made in our own appellation. This lovely wine is made in Sicily and sipping it makes you feel like you are there. It is so smooth and the flavors of blackberry and fig give it the barest hint of sweetness although it is a dry wine. After taking a bite of our antipasti salad with salty olives and salami the wine tasted even sweeter. We plan to find out where we can buy this wine and have at home because we love it that much!

Of course, no good dinner out is complete without dessert. At Kitchen Roselli, getting dessert can be a little cut throat. The restaurant’s most popular dessert is a cream puff and there are not always enough for everyone. Sadly, we were told all the cream puffs were gone when it came time for us to order dessert. We do enjoy a cannoli so we were going to settle for that. And then, a most wonderful thing occurred. A cream puff was liberated and delivered to our table! We were beyond thrilled.

And then something even more amazing happened, the server offered us an after-dinner drink! Why is this amazing? My whole life, our town and county has been dry. The fact that we can even enjoy wine and now liquor at a meal out is quite amazing. I enjoyed a very soothing glass of Amaretto. Yum!

Cheers!

A wedding roadtrip

This weekend my lovely sorority sister got married in Asheville, NC. Her ceremony was at Lake Junaluska (which is actually in Waynesville, NC) and it was so beautiful. The lake is absolutely gorgeous, as was the adorable stone chapel where the ceremony was held. Of course, I cried.

Lake Junaluska
The wedding reception was held at a trendy venue, aptly called The Venue. Highlights of the reception included a dance off between the Groomsmen and Bride and Bridesmaids and a mashed potato bar. I have been hearing that mashed potato bars, were the new “thing” when it comes to wedding reception food. This is definitely a trend I support. I am a fan of anything that allows me to add my desired amount of bacon and cheese. Another sorority sister’s husband joked with us that we should have a bacon bar where you can add small amounts of potato, chives or cheese to your bowl full of bacon. Again, another amazing idea! I’m pretty sure all good ideas start with bacon.
As a North Carolina native I am sad to say this was the first time I had ever been to Asheville. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time touring the city, but we did make the time to eat somewhere cute and shop. The main reason I like going ANYWHERE is to eat and shop! Come to think of it, I live to eat and shop!
The Bride and Groom had thoughtfully created little goody bags for guests staying overnight in Asheville and included a list of their favorite places to visit. Tupelo Honey Cafe and The Early Girl Eatery were on the list and the concierge at our hotel also recommended having brunch at one of these places. Unfortunately (or fortunately as it turned out) both of these places had long wait times and so we bravely ventured out to try something else. By chance we parked near a place called Chorizo. I did a double take when I saw the name. I love chorizo about as much as I love bacon! We were seated right away and it was toasty warm inside, since it was very chilly outside this was a huge perk.
Morgan ordered the homemade chorizo and a “cheesy pancake” served with apples and eggs. I had the tortilla plate with bacon, cheesy grits and the freshest pico de gallo, black beans and guacamole I’ve ever had! I was very thoughtless, my dear readers, and starting hogging in all this good food without even thinking to take a picture for you. With just a few bites left, I remembered so here you go:
The best part was really the pico. I don’t know how in the world they had still had such fresh tasting tomatoes this late in the season. I’m just crazy about tomatoes and let’s face it, the kind from the grocery store never taste as good as the home grown kind. The guac and beans don’t look that appetizing, I know, but I promise they were yummy! I ate all of my food and what was left of Morgan’s.
Being the material girl that I am, I just couldn’t leave town without purchasing some sort of memento from my first visit to Asheville. I got two adorable pairs of earrings (made in the USA, can you believe?) and some books from a super cute bookstore. Jewelry, food and books, yep my day was complete!
I will leave you with this last photo of the awesome wall decor at Chorizo.