White Chili

It will happen to all of us at some point, we’ll desire to be of use, perhaps a friend who has a hospitalized parent, or a new baby or a community that is searching for a beloved elderly man who is missing in the wilderness. One of the great things about knowing how to cook is that you can always offer succor. This is exactly why you should focus on cooking techniques more than specific recipes. A quick purview of my Alaskan hosts’ larder left me with many options—and brought home one more reason to clean out my fridge. Someday someone might want to help me and I don’t want them to see how I ACTUALLY live! I was amazed to see Hazel’s freezer with its neat rows of labelled bags “Moose ribs” and “venison flank”. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t take risks with a meal that hungry searchers might be relying on. I found a huge bag of frozen chicken thighs and decided on a white chili. Don’t even bother trying this with chicken breasts, they lack succulence. You might as well throw in some balsa wood. Save the breasts for applications when looks matters, this is not one of those. Remember you want a shallow container and a high volume of cold water-friction is what will do the work here to thaw the chicken. While the thighs defrosted under running water, I whipped up some white cheddar corn bread. As soon as the meat was pliable enough to cut, I sliced it into strips and put it back under the running water. Speed was of the essence here. So watch your meat and as it softens cut it into smaller pieces. For this application you want small cubes. This technique helps you avoid the white shriveled edges of microwave deforested meant… I had meant to type “defrosted” meat, but “deforested” is an accurate description for meat that is nuked from its frozen state. I sautéed three large onions, medium dice, until soft and then added a generous palm full each of cumin and chili powder–remember you want chili powder not dried chiles unless you are helping people that you secretly want to burn lipless—and allowed the spices to bloom in the hot oil. I dumped in cans of white beans. You need two cans of beans per pound of chicken. As the pieces of chicken thawed, I patted them dry and browned them in the largest cast iron skillet I had ever seen. As the meat took on a nice color I moved it into the simmering vegetables. I added some chicken stock and simmered briefly. It is far better to brown the chicken in batches then to allow it to poach in thigh water turning into rubbery snails without the flavor built by proper browning. The brown bits that gather in the pan are your friend, they make a huge difference. This flavor builder is so important that it actually has a name, “fond”. Fifteen minutes of simmering are all that are required, but using chicken thighs instead of breasts buys you a bit of insurance, should you need it to cook longer. Serve forth with sour cream, grated cheese, and corn chips. Enjoy the opportunity to serve people you care about.

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