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By Karin Calloway
Roasted chicken with crispy skin is comfort food for most families, but since I discovered the joys of Cajun cooking and roux making as a newlywed in the mid-1980s (through Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen), Chicken Etouffee is my family’s most-requested comfort dish.
The recipe is a bit complicated to prepare, but I’ve pared preparation down by using skinless, boneless chicken breast halves in place of Prudhomme’s bone-in chicken pieces. And, I use prepared Cajun seasonings from the supermarket’s spice section. You can find great Cajun blends from Prudhomme, as well as from Food Network Chef Emeril Lagasse.
The dish is basically flavorful fried chicken bathed in a luscious dark roux-based sauce. Roux making can be a challenge, so take your time on your first few batches until you master the technique. Cook the roux over medium heat, stirring almost constantly so that the roux won’t burn.
The roux-vegetable sauce can also be a base for classic gumbo or Shrimp Etouffée. For the shrimp dish, simply omit the fried chicken and add two pounds of large peeled and deveined shrimp when the sauce is ready. Stir until the shrimp turn pink and you’re ready to serve.
Place the Cajun seasonings in a small bowl. Remove excess fat from chicken breasts. Sprinkle each side of the breasts with some of the Cajun seasoning and set aside.
Place the flour in a zip-top plastic bag. Add 1 tablespoon of the Cajun seasonings and shake to combine. Add the chicken pieces and shake until well coated.
Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a heavy cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven. Fry the chicken until browned and cooked through (internal temperature for chicken should reach 165-170). Remove chicken and set aside on paper towels. (Chicken can be prepared ahead at this point.)
Pour out the oil from frying the chicken and measure 3/4 cup. Discard the remaining oil. Return the oil to the skillet and heat to 375 degrees. Measure the remaining flour from the chicken and add additional flour to make 1 cup. When the oil is hot, add the flour, whisking constantly, until it becomes dark red-brown, about 20-30 minutes. Add the chopped onion, celery, bell peppers and seasonings, and stir until the roux stops darkening and the vegetables become tender, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining Cajun seasonings and stir for 1 minute.
While you make the roux, heat the chicken broth in a Dutch oven until simmering. When vegetables in the roux are tender, whisk the roux-vegetable mixture into the broth by spoonfuls, whisking until each addition is blended into the broth before adding more. When all of the roux has been added, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, on low, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken and the green onions and simmer until the chicken is heated through. Serve over the rice.
Makes 8 servings.