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Healthier Chicken and Biscuits

Cooking Lessons: Lighter Chicken and Biscuits

The best recipes, Food Orleans reminds us, are those that teach us lessons along the way, like Ina Garten's version of chicken and biscuits.

This recipe, a favorite of ours for years now, comes from the relentlessly delicious kitchen of The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. I've spent many happy hours of my life curled up with her cookbooks and a cup of coffee, dreaming that I too had a cooking assistant named Barbara by my side, and that I too had a gigantic barn-sized kitchen with two dishwashers and plenty of gorgeous natural light. If I had those things, couldn't I too whip up some fantastically comforting food for my husband and millions of viewers? I think I could.

As it turns out, Ina's recipes are entirely doable in the smallest of kitchens with the dreariest of lighting. Even though this particular recipe for chicken stew with biscuits dirties a lot of dishes, I started making it in my tiny grad-school kitchen that had approximately 12 square inches of counter space. I didn't use a mixer to make the biscuits, because I didn't have one yet. I was covered in flour by the end of it, but that only added to the comforting, homey effect, I'm sure: tender chicken napped in gravy, vegetables that add the perfect texture and sweetness, and biscuits that are crisp on the top and wet on the bottom, a little dumpling-y, in fact.  

Keep reading for Food Orleans's chicken and biscuits lessons.

One of the things I love about this recipe is the lessons I've learned from it: First, she roasts chicken on the bone to pre-cook it. A lot of recipes call for poaching chicken in water or stock as a way to precook it for casseroles, but roasting it really does give you a velvety texture and great flavor. Second, she dissolves bouillon cubes in chicken stock as a way to completely boost the flavor of the sauce. I mean, it's a really chickeny sauce that you don't have to spend a lot of time tinkering with to get it to taste good, because the bouillon makes it taste really, really good. Third, blanching the little carrot squares is like making your own version of frozen carrots — they come out partially cooked, in perfect condition for throwing into a piping hot pot of chicken stew. I like learning how to do things like that from scratch.

I don't normally wrangle with Ina's recipes at all, but this one, I could tell, had more butter and cream than it really needed. Over the past 8 years, I think I've made it about 15 times, each time with a little less fat and consistently fantastic results. So while my version is not really a low-fat recipe, it's got a lot less fat than the original, plus a little extra vegetation with the addition of mushrooms. It's a bit of a project, but I always chalk those sweaty cooking minutes up to part of my daily exercise, and a reason to dig in with gusto. If you break out in stress hives looking at this recipe, here are some ways to cheat:

  • Shred an entire rotisserie chicken instead of roasting your own. You'll need 4 to 6 cups of cooked, shredded chicken, so you might want to throw in an extra breast or two.
  • Use frozen carrots instead of blanching raw carrots.  
  • Omit the mushrooms or use some from a jar.
  • Top the casserole with premade biscuits, or some thick slices of buttered bread in the last few minutes of baking.

After rubbing the chicken with olive oil, season the underside first, then flip them skin-side up, season, and place in the oven. It's really important to season the underside well, because there's a lot of exposed meat here. The top side is covered by skin, which will be discarded.

NOTE: this recipe needs a giant baking dish, or a 9 x 13 (above), plus a second dish, an 8 x 8, 9 x 9, or a round cake pan. It feeds an army.

My biscuits are a little thin because I accidentally rolled them out to 1/8" instead of 3/8". Yours will look awesomer.

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