Thank goodness for spur-of-the-moment bulk ham purchases.
For if my brother-in-law had not purchased TEN WHOLE POUNDS of tasso ham, I would not have come away from Thanksgiving weekend with two pounds of my very own, and then we wouldn’t have had this tasso and chicken stew for dinner tonight. And lunch tomorrow. And the next day. And that? Would have been sad indeed. Luckily, he went on his ham buying spree, and I was able to reap the benefits.
So, tasso ham. It’s a heavily spiced, hot-smoked cut of pork. It’s a Cajun thing, which means it’s a delicious thing, because what Cajun food is NOT delicious? I mean, good food is the whole reason we keep Louisiana around.
I actually owe by brother-in-law for more than just the tasso, I owe him for the dish itself. He used the tasso in some shrimp and grits while we were down there; KILLER. But I try not to eat grits cooked with a pound of cheese on a regular basis, as much as I’d like to, so I though I’d adapt it into a chicken stew with lots of veg and some black eyed peas.
The main part of putting this stew together is the chopping: chopping carrots, chopping celery, chopping onions, chopping garlic, chopping bell peppers. Chopping thyme. Chopping tasso. Chopping chicken. Chopping one or more fingernails when you get too lazy during all the chopping.
Fortunately, I’m one of those people who actually finds endless chopping therapeutic at the end of a long day, or else I’d be really fucking cranky by now.
I let the veg sweat for a little while until they were barely softened, then added the tasso; the pot was a joyful riot of color, a sure sign that things were headed in the right direction.
Oh, and then I put in half a stick of butter. You know, for the roux, to thicken things up. Look, I said I was skipping the cheese grits, not that I was going to suck all the joy out of the dish. You gotta have balance. And butter. Wonderful, wonderful butter.
When the butter was totally melted, I stirred in some flour and let everything cook together to get rid of the raw flourly taste. I didn’t cook things long enough to darken up the roux, which, in retrospect, I see was a mistake. The finished dish was fantastic, but how much better would it have been if built on a dark, nutty roux? The world will never know. Maybe it’s better that way; we probably wouldn’t be able to handle it otherwise, mere mortals that we are.
In went a bunch of chicken stock, which quickly heated up and thickened, and voila! Stew-ification achieved.
I dumped in a pile of roughly chopped chicken thighs to poach in the stew, figuring they’d take better to an extended simmer than their leaner breasty counterparts. A few minutes before eating time, I added a can of black-eyed peas and cooked everything for a few minutes more, just to bring all the flavors together. I also added a bit of lemon juice, just to punch up the flavor; not that tasso needs much help in the “punch” department. But it is a bit heavy and spicy, and the brightness of lemon juice is a welcome addition without actually turning things lemon-flavored.
A few chopped scallions added a final coup de grace, and dinner was served. Though to be honest, I probably filched a dinner’s worth of stew out of the pot in the name of “testing for seasoning,” and didn’t really need an additional bowl’s worth.
Well, maybe I did need it, if wanting something a lot is the same as needing.
For a dish that relies on one main flavoring agent, this stew is wonderfully rich. The toothsome veg, chewy ham, tender chicken and soft beans created interesting layers of texture, with the heady spice of the tasso permeating every bit – a little hot, a little salty, a little smoky. The broth was thickened just enough to be hearty but not so much as to be gloppy, and flecked with the spices given off by the tasso. The tasso also lent the dish enough heat to make our noses run a bit; welcome on a cold December night.
If you’re not lucky enough to have family members who buy pork in bulk and then give it away, you can pick up some tasso of your very own over at CajunGrocer.com. I guess you could substitute andouille like some kind of Johnny-come-lately, but why would you? That’s right, you wouldn’t.
Chicken and Tasso Stew
makes a big ‘ol pot
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme
1/2 lb. tasso ham, diced
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. AP flour
4 c. chicken stock
1 1/2 lbs. chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 15oz. can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed.
salt to taste
3-4 scallions, diced
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery, onion, pepper, garlic and thyme and saute until the veg just begins to soften, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the tasso.
Make a little well in the center of the veg and add the butter; let it melt and toss the veg into it. Add the flour to the pot, mixing well until everything is coated. Cook together for 2-3 minutes.
Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken thighs and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and all the flavors fully mingle, 15-20 minutes. Stir in the peas and simmer 5 minutes more.
Juice the lemon into the pot (it should perk up the flavor but not taste lemony) and adjust the salt level (a lot will depend on the ham).
Serve piping hot with a sprinkle of diced scallion