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Chicken Creole Has Classic Southern Flavor

Bev Bennett Los Angeles Times Service

The image of Southern cooking is that it’s an ongoing process of chopping, simmering and stirring that doesn’t end until the last vegetable is boiled into submission.

Not true.

Southern cooking has evolved into a style as light, fresh and fast as that done anywhere else in the country. But it is still tastier.

One difference is that Southern cooks use fat as a flavoring, not just a browning agent, so their dishes have a deeper, more developed taste. For example, a little bacon fat gives vegetables a smoky, rich accent.

Another is that Southerners aren’t shy about odoriferous vegetables. Onions and garlic are the base for some of their best soups and stews. And, if the dish says Creole, it has onions, garlic, tomatoes and plenty of herbs.

However, we also said fast. The days when cooks in any region of the country could devote hours to a meal are over. This Chicken Creole, which features vegetables and chicken in a tomato base, is a delicious reworking of a classic Louisiana dish, just in time for Mardi Gras.

Chicken Creole

2 strips bacon

1 small green pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 jalapeno chili, cored, seeded and minced

1 small onion, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons dry vermouth

1 (16-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon crushed dried sage

1/2 teaspoon Spanish paprika

1/2 to 3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch dice

Salt, freshly ground white pepper

Rice (recipe follows)

Fry bacon in large skillet until crisp and well browned; remove and reserve for rice. In bacon fat, saute green pepper, jalapeno chili, onion and garlic 5 minutes. Add vermouth and scrape up any browned bits.

Stir in tomatoes, broth, oregano, sage and paprika and simmer 10 minutes. Add chicken and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, prepare rice.

To serve, spoon rice onto 2 serving plates. Top each with half the Chicken Creole. Serve hot.

Yield: 2 servings.

Rice

3/4 cup converted or regular long-grain rice

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

2 strips cooked bacon (from recipe above)

Salt, freshly ground white pepper

Combine rice and broth in medium pan and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until rice is tender and liquid absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Crumble bacon and stir into rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Yield: About 1-1/2 cups.

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