Sierra Chicken Stew

Sierra Chicken Stew

My Mom used to have a big, red Le Creuset stock pot (here’s a post about it), and out of it came all my favorite dinners. Her most memorable creation was this Mexican-inspired stew with whole pieces of chicken, along with bell peppers, onions, beans, corn, and sliced black olives. (I know canned black olives aren’t cool these days, but both their flavor and their retro Mexican food vibe are very right here.) Mom cooked it at home, threw it into the ice chest, pot and all, and carted it up to the Sierras for a weekend at a friend’s cabin, hence the name.

On the side, plenty of warm tortillas.

  • One whole 3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken, cut into pieces, including cutting the breast in halves or thirds, and trimmed of excess skin or fat 1/2 cup
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • 1 onion, cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 to 4 canned chipotle peppers (in adobo sauce), minced (see note below)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • Two 26- to 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup drained julienned oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • One 15-ounce can black, pinto, or kidney beans, drained
  • 1 cup corn kernels, freshly sliced off the cob, canned (drained), or frozen
  • One 2.25-ounce can sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Pat the chicken pieces dry, then sprinkle liberally on both sides with salt and black pepper.

In a 6- to 8-quart stock pot over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add half of the chicken, skin side down, and cook until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook the other side until brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and, if necessary, add another tablespoon of oil to the pot. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

If necessary, another tablespoon of oil to the pot. When the oil is hot, add the bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Add the onions, garlic, chipotle, chili powder, cumin, and coriander and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers and onions are becoming soft, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes (with their juices) and sun-dried tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken, nestling it into the liquid, along with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the chicken is cooked through and easily falling off the bones, about 1 1/2 hours.

If you like, pick out the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon and carefully remove the meat from the bones (because of the heat, I like to wear dishwashing gloves to do this), returning the meat to the pot in large hunks. Otherwise, leave the pieces whole and let your guests do their own boning.

Stir in the beans, corn, and cilantro. Add salt to taste. If necessary, gently reheat the stew. Serve hot.

NOTE Look for chipotle in the ethnic or Latin section of your supermarket, and be sure to use only 2 to 4 peppers from the can – not 2 to 4 cans. (My Mom made that mistake once and – whooee – our mouths were on fire that night!)