Southern Cooking, Just Different
I’ve never been a huge fan of some traditional southern cooking despite being born and raised in the south.
I mean, hell, if you live north of Little Rock I think you’re a Yankee. Actually it’s worse than that; I think you’re a Yankee if you live north of me.
At any rate I know I’m supposed to love turnip greens, black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes, but they never have done much for me. Oh, sure I love sweet potato pie, but if you put a stick of butter, a cup of sugar, and a couple of teaspoons of allspice on a tub of mashed eggplants I’d probably eat that, too. Lately though my taste has been changing a little and I’ve been craving food I didn’t even like when I was ten. Strangely enough, turnip greens and sweet potatoes have been at the top of my list. What I’ve found is I like them better when you put them in the same bowl.
What you’re gonna need for this one dish meal is this:
2 Sweet potatoes
4-5 Chicken thighs skinned and deboned
Half of a medium onion
Turnip Greens about one and a half cups
Five Spice Powder
Pepper sauce if you want it
As I’ve said before, I’m a single man and I live like one, so the fewer dishes I have to wash the better. That’s why I tend to favor concoctions that you can cook and/or serve in one dish. For simplicity’s sake I usually do use two pans for this, three if you count the rice maker as a pan, but you could conceivably make the whole thing in a crock pot if you’re pressed for time. It just won’t be as good.
The first thing I like to do is get a couple of sweet potatoes and peel them and chunk them up. I boil them in plenty of water cause when they’re done I’m gonna throw in some frozen turnip greens. But not yet. Wait for it.
While the water and sweet potatoes are coming to a boil I start sautéing a fair amount of onion in an iron skillet. (The skillet doesn’t have to be iron, could be aluminum, if you’re a Yankee or something. I use an iron skillet. That is why I will be president someday.) A fair amount of onion in this case would be about half, but I like onion and if I find I’ve got a good one on my hands I usually go ahead and use the whole thing. Chop it up into fairly small pieces, no bigger than a dime for instance. I use olive oil for this but butter is good too, just bad for you.
While the onions are starting to cook I take four or five boned chicken thighs without the skin and season them with garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, and for that little touch of something different, five spice powder.
Now five spice powder is one of those fancy foreign spices, but there’s no need to be afeared of it. Turns out it is mostly gonna give it a kind of anise flavor. I dust the chicken with a good generous amount of the five spice powder and then throw it in with the onions and let it cook till it’s getting pretty brown. Chicken thighs cook pretty quickly so over a medium heat it shouldn’t take very long at all. When the thighs are done I rip them into chunks in the skillet and turn the heat down and let whatever moisture is in the pan reduce and turn nice and brown.
By that time the sweet potatoes should be done. Now, you can use fresh turnip greens, or you can use leftover turnip greens, but you’re on your own for that. I’m a single man who doesn’t really like turnip greens that much so I buy the smallest bag of frozen greens I can find. The advantages are I don’t tie the washing machine up cleaning greens and I don’t have to rip them up and basically the frozen greens are cooked by the time the water returns to a boil. I give them just a little more time than that but not much because you’ll be on the verge of overcooking the sweet potatoes if you do.
Now this is the crucial thing, take some of the hot water off of the sweet potatoes and deglaze the iron skillet. A cup of water ought to be plenty to get all the goodness up out of the skillet and then you dump that and the chicken in with the greens and sweet potatoes. You’re done. Serve it over rice. If you like Tabasco sauce it’s damn good on this.
Now you might prefer to dump this concoction over a bowl of crumbled corn bread, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but the five spice powder gives it that little touch of Asian cuisine so it just feels right to me to serve it over rice. Besides, I have a rice cooker and I’d feel like a damn idiot for owning one if I didn’t use it on occasion.
Edwin E. Smith is a poet, heckuva writer and all around swell guy. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him on the Internet at edwinesmith.com