Why did the chicken cross the road? While many will answer with, “To get to the other side.” it might be to save its own life. Think about it, someone is usually trying to put a rotisserie spit up that poor chicken’s butt. Or there is the crazy guy attempting to choke it behind the barn. The poor chicken knows to stay away from the same crazy guy’s wife though; she wants to smother it! That poor chicken, what could it possibly have done to have so many trying to murder it?
Blue Collar Comedy comedian, Bill Engvall, gives us an answer, “Many moons ago, millions of chickens roamed this land. Then along comes Colonel, wiped them out.” (Bill Engvall – Free Range Chicken - www.youtube.com) Chickens are not native to North America. They did roam freely across Southeast Asia before becoming domesticated about 5400 years ago. Eventually, as European countries developed, traders brought chickens back; along with silk, precious gems and other culinary oddities. Chicken meat and eggs were considered a delicacy for the rich and the royal. By the 16th – 17th centuries, chickens, which are prolific breeders, became common place; food for the rich and poor alike. Dutch and Portuguese slave traders brought them across the Atlantic, stored in cages, as were their human cargo. The only freedom the domesticated chicken now knew, was the barnyard; and the slaves were their caretakers.
Also, along with the chickens, came recipes and cooking techniques from various countries and cultures. In French, the word "étouffée" means "smothered", a popular cooking technique in Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole cuisines. A protein (meat, poultry or seafood), plus a minimal amount of liquid, is slow cooked over low heat, in a covered pan; similar to braising. The protein, and the ensuing “gravy”, were ladled over rice, with vegetables as a side dish. Eventually, it became easier to put all the ingredients into a stock pot, cooking together until the protein simply became “smothered” in rice, vegetables and gravy.
The Campbell’s Soup Company took advantage of this type of cooking and created casserole dishes, with recipes on the backs of soup cans. Popular is the use of cream of mushroom soup, poured over chicken and rice, baked in the oven, and 20 minutes later…dinner! I have made this recipe myself, but over the years, experimentation has given me many delicious versions.
My newest version is called “Creamy Smothered Chicken”, with the chicken baked alone and smothered in a rich, creamy sauce; rice is served as a side dish. Very similar to the original technique developed by Louisiana residents. While I put diced and chopped vegetables into my sauce, another vegetable, steamed broccoli for example, can be another side dish. The chicken will bake longer than the Campbell’s recipe, as I do not precook the chicken in a skillet.
When I mention, for the chicken, “cut in half laterally”, place the chicken breast on the cutting board and place your palm on top. Carefully run a sharp knife, sideways, along the length of the breast, creating two “cutlets” of equal length and thickness.
With the sauce, do not work it down between the chicken breasts. The underside of the chicken, exposed to the nonstick spray, will develop a crispy crust.
Creamy Smothered Chicken
4 chicken breasts, cut in half laterally
2 large eggs
2 cups 2% milk
2 cups Italian flavored bread crumbs
1 (10.5 oz.) cream of mushroom soup
1 cup 2% milk
1 (4 oz.) can sliced mushrooms
1 cup diced bell peppers (green, red and yellow in equal proportions)
½ cup diced red onion
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and 2 cups milk; immerse chicken breasts and let soak for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F; spray a 4-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Coat sides and edges of the chicken with the bread crumbs, place inside baking dish.
Cover with aluminum foil, bake for 30 minutes; remove foil and bake additional 30 minutes.
Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Suggested accompanying side dishes: steamed broccoli, rice pilaf, buttered egg noodles or garlic toast.
Makes 8 servings.