This is a real rattle around the cupboard, try to use up as many things you have banging around the house about to wilt or go off, everything awesome in the pot kind of stew. The weather’s kind of crisp and I’ve been wanting something warm, nourishing, and festive, but light and flavory and zesty enough to pay proper homage to the end of summer. This is the dish. This is mind-blowingly good, and includes enough odd back of the fridge ingredients that anyone could throw it together. And easy! A food synonym for “stew.”
1 packet chicken breast tenderloins (support your local farms) — or any cut of chicken you like. The pot simmers long enough to get some real mileage out of some nice scrappy chicken thighs, but I had tenderloins on hand. Upside: I didn’t have to de-bone dick.
1 yellow or white onion, chopped in half
1 bay leaf
5 tablespoons butter (salted, unsalted, whatever. I use salted and then watch my seasoning hand)
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Big handful haricot vert or green beans
Potatoes (a bunch of tiny ones is fun, or chop up one big russet potato, or quarter little red ones, fingerlings would be nice…it’s potato! Go crazy. Whatever you want, just keep it to about half a pound or less)
1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Pinch fennel seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon thyme leaves, squished between your fingers, plus 3 big sprigs
2 whole small lemons, quartered
2 tablespoons dry sherry (or white vinegar or just more lemon if you don’t have sherry; I’m not even totally sure why I have it, unless I stole it from an office Christmas party in 1962)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste (a LOT)
Water (3 discarded 28 oz tomato cans full)
(NOW HERE ARE THE SECRET INGREDIENTS)
Half of a Ramen seasoning packet, “chicken” flavor
2 tablespoons Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce!?!?!
Basically you’ll throw everything in, bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for about 45-60 minutes. That’s the easy explanation, but let’s break it down, shall we? Yay!
Heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium. Chop dat onion and throw half in there. Add your bay leaf and a pinch of salt and let it get all foamy and oniony, but don’t let it brown. Keep it moving as you start stripping your thyme springs, squishing them, and throwing them in. Let the onion and herbs soften in the butter for 4 or 5 minutes. Add the olive oil, bring the heat up a bit to medium high, and tumble in the chicken. Don’t even cut it up! The meat cooks for so long and gets so tender, it should fall apart with a gentle nudge of a knife and spork (get it now!?) in your bowl.
Once the chicken has browned on all sides quickly, take the heat down to medium again. Pop the potatoes in and spoon them around with the chicken and herbs. Sprinkle in the fennel and bit more salt. Just a pinch. Next go in the tomatoes, another tablespoon of butter, and then the water. And the half packet of Ramen flavor. Bring it all to a boil.
While you wait for it to boil, snip the ends off the green beans and just snap them in half. Wash the lemons and quarter them. When the stew starts to get into a nice, boisterous rolling boil, take it down a bit, throw the lemon quarters in and let it simmer for about 30 minutes, during which you can add the sherry, the big thyme sprigs, and the Worcestershire sauce. Keep tasting, and adjust your flavors according to what you like. I always end up add pepper at this stage until it tastes right. Add the fourth tablespoon of butter. Experiment! You’ll know.
After 30 minutes simmering, throw in the green beans. After you introduce them to the broth, taste again. They add an incredible light greenness to the stew that is unmatchable. Again, adjust your flavors. Let those hang with everybody else for about ten minutes, then add your cannellinis. You’ll probably want a tiny bit more pepper, maybe some more Lea and Perrins. Maybe it’s perfect. Only you know!
In goes the last tablespoon of butter and then give the whole gang another 10-20 minutes sizzling together and then you’re ready to serve whenever your crusty bread is out of the oven.
Because! The No-Knead Crusty White Bread recipe King Arthur’s Flour cookbook (executed and directed beautifully here by PJ Hamel: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2009/12/01/the-crunchiest-crackliest-chewiest-lightest-easiest-bread-youll-ever-bake/ ), is the easiest bread recipe I have ever found, and I have scoured hundreds of recipes for easy awesome bread. If you have the dough ready (which you will often, after having read this magical recipe), it bakes up and cools in under an hour so you can have that going in the oven while you party with the stew on the stovetop.
Serve in large warm bowls with large spoons and large chunks of warm bread. Allow your mind to be boggled. Eat everything but the bay leaf, lemon rinds, and woody thyme stems. Anything else is up for grabs. Have more bread! It costs about three cents to make! It’s practically free! Give some to your friends! Go feed ducks! Throw it out the window!