Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mom's Chicken Creole - 30 years later

Thirty years ago I lost the cookbook from which my mother made her iconic Chicken Creole. Last Thursday, after decades of searching, I found a copy in perfect condition at Opposable Thumbs, a wonderful used bookstore in Northeast Minneapolis.

If you or your mother or grandmothers have any "old" cookbooks or church or synagogue cookbooks, you probably have one or more of the 60-odd-page pamphlets published by the Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago in the '50s, '60s and '70s. During my decades-long hunt for "Tempting Low-Calorie Recipes," I have always found a way to sort through pamphlets and church cookbooks on the dusty bottom shelves of used bookstores coast-to-coast. If you imagine that I have lots of Culinary Arts books, you are correct.

My sister Elaine and I agree that Mom had either 1956 or 1965 edition, because this was a favorite family recipe from the 1960s. As was typical of our semi-adventurous mother, on the first time out she followed the recipe precisely, using an 1/8 tsp of cayenne. In our family's early '60s culinary sensibility, that much cayenne made the dish completely inedible. But, because the underlying idea was sound, she kept making it. Elaine and I agree that the original can of cayenne lasted for 10 or 15 years, because Mom doled out cayenne grain-by-grain thereafter.

I have adapted this considerably, substituting fresh mushrooms for canned, adding fresh hot peppers and garlic, and substituting Penzey's Chicken Paste for the odious bouillon cubes that Mom used instead of chicken stock. Feel free to substitute vegetarian stock and to replace the chicken with shrimp or tofu (instructions below). And yes, the Creole sauce is just fine all by itself. This goes best over rice.

New Chicken Creole, adapted from "Tempting Low-Calorie Recipes," Culinary Arts Institute

1 T canola or other neutral oil
4-6 oz fresh mushrooms, cut in thick slices
1 medium onion, chopped (not fine)
1 red or green pepper, cut in 1/2" strips
1 each, jalapeno and red fresno chili or other fresh chilis, minced
1 garlic clove minced
1 cup chicken or vegetarian broth
1 6 oz can of tomato paste and 6 oz water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 - 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Choice of : 1 cup cut up cooked chicken, 1/2 pound raw peeled shrimp (or cooked shrimp), 1/2 pound tofu cut into cubes

1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet with a lid. On high heat, add the mushrooms and peppers and stir until the mushrooms begin to brown. Add the onions and stir until they just begin to soften. Add the garlic and stir for a minute or until it becomes fragrant.

2. Add the broth, tomato paste and water, salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir until the tomato paste begins to dissolve. Lower the heat, and simmer covered for 30 minutes.

3. FOR CHICKEN: Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until heated (2-3 minutes).

4. FOR RAW SHRIMP: Add the shrimp and cook for two to five minutes, or until the shrimp is cooked. FOR COOKED SHRIMP: Add the shrimp and cook until heated. (2-3 minutes)

5. FOR TOFU: While the sauce is simmering, heat the broiler, cut the tofu into cubes, and place them on an oiled foil-covered baking sheet. Sprinkle with some red wine or red wine garlic vinegar for some color and flavor. Broil for about 8 minutes, turn the cubes and broil for about 5 more minutes, or until the cubes have some color and are beginning to crisp. Drain the cubes on a paper towel and then add to the sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes so that the tofu can absorb some flavor.


V said...

This looks just awesome! We will certainly have to give it a try.



Pete said...

Susan- This sounds wonderful! Pete Michaud