Here we are already in the second week of April, and that ominous date is fast approaching. April 15th. Tax day. I’m still slogging through mine, and it’s definitely not the most pleasant thing I have on my to-do list this month. I’ll be relieved when they’re submitted and tucked out of mind until next year, but until then, I’ve been incentivizing myself with small treats as I work my way through each section. Treats like a bowl of ice cream, an episode of Scandal, or a secret Taylor Swift dance session to get my spirits back up. Or, if I’m really feeling done in, calling it quits for the night and heading to the kitchen to cook up a Southern comfort food feast, preferably to savor with a glass of Cambria Chardonnay, as a reward for all my diligence.
Although I’ve spent most of my life in Boston, I spent four, formative college years in North Carolina, and it was where I really learned to love food. The Raleigh-Durham area has such a rich food culture, and in a lot of ways was on the forefront of today’s local food movement before many major cities had caught on. The produce there is amazing and available almost year round, and there’s a long history of raising livestock, too, making it easy to eat local and eat well. While I’m certainly no expert on Southern cooking, I do have my favorites from those years: grits, hush puppies, pulled pork, collards, biscuits, pimiento cheese… Southern food is nothing if not built for comfort.
The most obvious choice when it comes to Southern-style comfort food is probably fried chicken. With a thick and crunchy coating and tender, buttermilk-soaked white meat, served piping hot, fried chicken is certainly delicious. It’s also a ton of work to make it right, and if you’ve never done it before, not exactly the kind of kitchen project I’d consider a “break,” especially if you end up with kind of soggy, partially cooked chicken. So in the spirit of keeping things easy, I turned to another Southern classic for my “tax break dinner” - gumbo. Except, it’s not exactly a gumbo. A true gumbo requires slow-cooking a roux for 30 minutes to an hour until it’s deep brown and absolutely packed with flavor. Again, delicious, but not exactly convenient.
Tax Break Southern Comfort Dinner
So, this “gumbo” is a bit more like a stew but with lots of smoky, rich, Southern flavors. Served over a pile of cheesy grits crammed full of melted smoked gouda, it’s a meal to be savored bite after bite. Of course, don’t forget the Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay, because a) it’s a lovely pairing for both recipes, and b) is it really a good break without a glass of wine?
Smoky Chicken “Gumbo” | Serves 4-6
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 TBS flour
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne
- ¼ tsp ground mustard seed
- 2 TBS vegetable oil
- 8 oz. smoked Andouille sausage, sliced into rounds
- 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 stalks celery, stems and leaves removed, stalks finely chopped
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 c. chicken stock
- One 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, and mustard seed until evenly combined. Toss with the chicken pieces in a large bowl to evenly coat the chicken and set aside
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced sausage and cook until it is browned all over and has released much of its fat, about another 5 minutes. Remove the chicken and sausage to a bowl and set aside. Drain all but 3 TBS of the fat from the pan, then return to the heat.
- Add the onion, celery, and red peppers to the pan and saute until tender but not browned, about 7-10 minutes. Return the chicken and sausage to the pan, then add the chicken stock and diced tomatoes. Simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes, then remove the cover and continue simmering until the sauce has reduced and thickened, another 20-30 minutes. Serve hot over cheesy smoked gouda grits.
Cheesy Smoked Gouda Grits | Serves 4
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown
- 2 c. chicken stock
- 2 c. whole milk
- 1 c. grits
- 8 oz. smoked gouda cheese, grated
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Add the stock and the milk to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Keep an eye on the pot - as soon as the milk begins to simmer, it will be at risk of boiling over. If it starts to foam up, remove from the heat for 30 seconds and lower the heat before returning the pan to the heat.
- Slowly pour the grits into the simmering liquid, whisking vigorously as you do so. Cook the grits over low heat, whisking the whole time, until grits are thick and creamy, about 10-15 minutes. When the grits are cooked, remove from the heat and whisk in the cheese until fully melted, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
And save room, because there’s cake for dessert.
To be specific, maple-corn cake served with peaches poached in chardonnay and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Southern food for a Northern girl, waiting for spring and for her tax refund (hopefully).