Michael, my husband has always wanted me to take notes on what I cook, because when I make something he loves – and he loved this chicken and sweet potato dish – I might be able to make the same thing again. The important word here is ‘might,’ since I’m an incorrigible tinkerer
I’m the kind of cook who goes to the market with a list and returns with everything but what was on it. It only takes one beautiful squash, apple or bunch of herbs to make me change my plans. And even when I’m at the stove, there’s no guarantee that I won’t turn things topsy-turvy at the last minute. It’s what happened over and over with this recipe and I’ll be surprised if you don’t end up playing around with it too.
The inspiration for the dish is Hachis Parmentier, the French version of a shepherd’s pie. For the classic, the base is chopped beef (hachis means minced) and the top, the Parmentier part, is mashed potatoes. In the culinary lexicon, Parmentier always signals potatoes, an homage to the man, Antoine Augustin Parmentier, who championed the nutritiousness of spuds in late 18th century France, his native land, where farmers were forbidden from growing them for fear that they caused leprosy. I can imagine celebrations in the streets of Paris when, in 1772, the Faculty of Medicine declared the white potato edible. And I can imagine Hachis Parmentier being created just minutes later, since it’s one of the tastiest ways to make a meal out of leftovers or inexpensive cuts of meat.
My version of the Parmentier depends less on leftovers and more on what’s in the fridge. The core ingredients are the chicken, I use thighs, but you can use other parts, and the sausage, chicken (my choice) or pork, spiced or plain. The chicken is not hachis-ed, but cut into morsels, and the sausage is broken up, so you get two different textures in the dish. As for the vegetables, here’s where the tinkering takes off. I’ve given you a recipe for a medley using onions, carrots, parsnips, winter squash and kale, but if you’ve got something else or want to keep adding vegetables, I say do it. Last week, I made this dish with the standards plus cubed turnips (they added a nice bitterness to the mix), leeks (leftover from soup) and bottled chestnuts (they’d been lurking in the cupboard since Thanksgiving). I used chard and curly kale, because that’s what I had, and I was tempted to add fennel, but I was in danger of a pot-runneth-over crisis.
As for the spices, I started using garam masala with this dish when a friend gave me some. From there, it was just a hop, skip and jump to adding curry powder, turmeric for color and star anise because I’m crazy about it. But the chicken-vegetable-and-potato combo would take to fresh herbs – think parsley, thyme, bay leaf and maybe even a little tarragon; to tagine-like spices – try cinnamon, ginger and saffron; or to something American southwest spicy – consider chile powder, a jalapeno and maybe a drizzle of honey to soften it all.
And then there are the potatoes. I went contra-Parmentier and used sweet potatoes, but if you prefer whites, hey, it’s your dish. And if, like me, you can’t resist running with an idea (sorry Michael), do what I’ve often done: cook some celery root along with the sweets and mash them together.
Tinker. Fiddle around. Have fun.
Photograph by Deb Lindsey. This story appeared originally in my Everyday Dorie column for the Washington Post.
Curried Chicken Parmentier
Makes 4 to 6 servings
(I served 4 and had leftovers, but portion size is always tricky for me.)
- About 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 sausages (about 6 ounces) chicken or pork, spicy or mild, casings removed
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, preferably organic, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large Spanish or Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks (or sliced about 1/2 inch thick)
- 1 parsnip, peeled and cut into small chunks (or sliced about 1/2 inch thick)
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 points of star anise
- About 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 6 ounces (peeled weight) butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (to make 1 rounded cup)
- 2 cups, packed, baby kale or spinach
- About 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
Pour 1/2 tablespoon of the oil into a large skillet (chose one with a lid, or find a plate or a baking sheet that you can use as cover), place it over medium heat and, when the oil is hot, add the sausages. Cook, stirring and mashing with a wooden spoon to break up the meat, until the sausages are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup water into the pan and stir to dislodge and pick up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Transfer the meat to a bowl with a slotted spoon. If the water didn’t boil away, drain it off, wipe the pan with a paper towel and return it to medium heat. Pour in another tablespoon of oil and, when hot, add the chicken. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the bowl with the sausage. Season the chicken and sausage with salt and pepper.
Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan, toss in the onions, garlic, ginger, carrots and parsnip. Season generously with salt and pepper, adjust the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, garam masala, turmeric and points of star anise. Return the chicken and sausage to the pan and pour in 1 1/4 cups of the broth. Give the mix a good stir, scatter over the chunks of squash, cover the pan and cook over low heat (you want to keep the broth at a slow simmer) until you can easily pierce the squash with the tip of a knife, about 15 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. Turn off the heat, stir in the kale and, once again, taste for salt and pepper. Set aside while you make the mashed potatoes.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, drop in the sweet potatoes and cook until the potatoes are soft enough to mash against the side of the pot, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes well, put them in a bowl and mash them until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Spoon the chicken, vegetables and their liquid into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, oven-going casserole or soufflé dish and place the dish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. (For sure, you’re going to have spillovers and this will make clean-up a snap.) You want to have enough broth so that you see it around the edges. If you think the mixture looks a little dry, add some of the leftover broth. Top with the mashed potatoes. I usually spoon them over and give them a swirl with the back of a spoon, but if you’d like, you can pipe the potatoes (put them in a zipper-lock plastic bag, seal and snip off a corner) – in a spiral or concentric circles.
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are browned and, most important, the juices are bubbling – you’ll see them burbling up around the edges of the sweet potatoes.
Serve immediately. If you have leftovers, you can keep them covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days – reheat, covered, in a conventional or microwave oven.