One year in Vermont, while driving down a back road, I spotted a gnarly old tree surrounded by apples that had fallen from its branches. The fruit was as bumpy and irregular-looking as the tree. Because the tree stood near the road, my passenger, a native Vermonter, informed me that we were free to take these “windfall” apples. Back home, I turned the rock-hard, ultra-tart fruit into the best chutney I’d ever made.
Relaying my country adventure to a friend – a big deal for a city girl like me – he started reminiscing too. Among his favorite memories of “country food” is the burgoo made by his father’s family in Kentucky.
A Kentucky tradition, burgoo is a big, hearty stew meant to feed a crowd. Cooked by seventeenth century sailors, the original stew is named for the bulgur wheat that thickened it. Traditionally cooked outdoors in a large iron pot, burgoo incorporates any and everything that happens to be on hand. It is usually full of vegetables like corn, peppers, carrots, lima beans and green beans. And it frequently features a variety of meats, including pork, rabbit, veal – even opossum.
Adapting this down-home stew, I make a lighter version that includes all of the vegetables, but substitutes chicken breasts and thighs for the meat.
Chicken Burgoo – Makes 6 servings.
1 whole, skinless chicken breast (about 1 lb.), split
2 skinless chicken thighs (about ½ lb.), all visible fat trimmed
4 cups fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 celery rib, sliced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup frozen baby lima beans
½ cup frozen corn kernels
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place the chicken and broth in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring liquid almost to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook until the chicken is white in the center at the thickest part, about 25 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate, reserving the broth in the saucepan. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones and tear it into bite-size pieces. There should be about two cups.
Meanwhile, add the carrots, celery, green pepper, green beans, lima beans, corn and tomato paste to the broth. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Add the chicken and cook until it is heated through. Season the stew to taste with hot sauce, salt and pepper.
Per serving: 170 calories, 2 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 11 g carbohydrate, 26 g protein, 3 g dietary fiber, 477 mg sodium.
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