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A Savory Chicken Stew for Company

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For a relaxed night off, two chefs take it easy in the kitchen and create a menu around a do-ahead chicken ragoût

We both cook for a living, but on nights off, we still gravitate to the kitchen—our home kitchen. So for us, having friends in is one of the best ways we know of to relax and still have a social life. But like most restaurant chef-owners, we lead hectic lives. So when we do invite people over, the menu needs to be special but not fussy—and it must be stress-free.

One of the great secrets to Southern hospitality—or any hospitality, for that matter—is a crowd-pleasing menu that lends itself to advance preparation, so that once your guests arrive, you can spend time with them, rather than in the kitchen. With a tiny bit of planning, this meal fits the bill perfectly. It comes together in a few advance stages, minimizing stress, and maximizing a good time. The timetable will guide you.

The dishes here are contemporary updates of Southern comfort food. We begin with a zippy little starter— goat cheese and red pepper jelly on crackers. A take on a traditional canapé served at old-fashioned North Carolina parties, these are great little bites for guests as they walk in the door.

The main course, a fragrant chicken and shrimp stew, has its origins in seaboard cities of the South, where British trading companies imported Indian spices. We love everything about this dish: its aromas, the contrasting textures, and the fact that it reheats beautifully and tastes even better after a little resting time. We let the curry blend in the stew be our guide where accompaniments are concerned. Aromatic, fluffy basmati rice with toasted almonds will soak up the savory juices from the stew. A cooling salad of cucumbers and spinach with yogurt and mint is a lovely foil; it’s a nod to the Indian spices in the stew. Finishing things off is a simple and fabulous chocolate cake spiked with bourbon. This beauty is incredibly light in texture, intense in flavor, and can be baked up to a day ahead.

Menu Timeline

entertaining countdown

Up to one week ahead

  • Make the curry spice blend.

Up to two days ahead

  • Prepare the ragoût, omitting the shrimp;refrigerate.

Up to one day ahead

  • Toast the almonds for the rice.
  • Make and chill the yogurt-mint salad dressing.
  • Bake the chocolate cake.

That afternoon

  • Measure the rice ingredients.
  • Prepare the spinach and cucumbers for the salad.
  • Peel and devein the shrimp.

An hour before serving

  • Remove the ragoût from the refrigerator.
  • Whip the cream for dessert; chill it in a strainer lined with cheesecloth set over a bowl.

40 minutes before serving .

  • Make the rice, omitting the almonds.
  • Reheat the ragoût over very low heat.

As guests arrive

  • Assemble the crackers and goat cheese.

10 minutes before serving

  • Add the shrimp to the ragoût; heat until they’re just cooked through.
  • Toss the salad.
  • Fluff the rice; add the toasted almonds.

Shopping List

Meat, Eggs & Poultry:

  • 2-1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 25-30 jumbo shrimp
  • 6 large eggs

Fresh Produce:

  • 8 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 1 bunch of celery
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 large shallots
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 small bunch of fresh chives
  • 1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint

Other Groceries:

  • 1 5-ounce log of fresh, mild goat cheese
  • 1 container of Greek-style yogurt, or whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 carton of heavy cream
  • 1 box of good crackers, such as Bremner Wafers
  • 1 package basmati rice
  • 1 jar of hot pepper jelly
  • 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
  • 1 package dried currants
  • 1 package sliced almonds
  • 11 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 bottle of bourbon
  • 1 bottle of hot (Madras) curry powder (if not using homemade spice blend, for spice blend ingredients see * below)

*curry spice blend ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 2 allspice berries
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom seeds
  • 1 Tbs. ground tumeric
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne

Pantry Staples:

  • Kosher salt black pepper
  • 5 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4-1/2 Tbs. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 4 cups low-salt (or homemade) chicken broth
  • 16 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1-2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract confectioners’ sugar for dusting

reader review

We asked a Fine Cooking reader to give this menu a real-world test-spin before publication. Here’s what she reported:

“This menu was a ringing success! The curry was lovely— not too strong—and worked beautifully with the chicken and shrimp. The bourbon chocolate cake was elegant and extremely easy to prepare. I have six kids, so I baked two cakes—both were gone in 36 hours.”

—Margaret Loewith, Arlington, Virginia

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