Lowcountry Stew Chicken

A South Carolina stew in a deeply flavored, light-bodied sauce.

Chicken stew in a Dutch oven.
Jillian Atkinson

Tell a person you want stew chicken and you'll likely get a different dish depending on who you're talking to. That's because there are stew chicken dishes across the African diaspora, and while methods and ingredients might change, they all evoke deep emotions. I caused a bit of an uproar a few years back when I took a picture of my version and put it on Twitter. I had people from all across the world calling me every name under the sun because what I'd labeled "stew chicken" didn't look like what they were used to. The truth, though, is that stewed chicken dishes are found everywhere there is a chicken. 

What we call “stew chicken” in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where I'm from, features a slow-cooked bird smothered in a savory brown gravy, served hot over grits or rice. While others might call it soup-like in consistency, it's a stew to us; made with a roux, it has a deeply flavored but light-bodied sauce. The smell of the chicken cooking on the stove with its spices, herbs, and aromatic vegetables feels like a warm hug. A big enough bowl would fill you up for days; it’s food that sticks to your bones. My granny, and many grannies across the South, served up this dish as comfort food—if you know, you know. 

Chicken thighs in a brown sauce.
Jillian Atkinson


At first, I was annoyed by how many people were trying to correct me on Twitter, but I was also happy to see just how many people were willing to learn more about a dish that looked almost like theirs and had a similar name, and how excited so many people were to share their own memories of the version they’d grown up eating. For many in the Caribbean, for example, "stew chicken" should be a dark, braised dish that uses burnt sugar or browning sauce to deepen the flavor and color. But for the stewed-down chicken that I’m used to, we skip those caramel-colored ingredients, searing the meat and any additional vegetables instead and using the brown fond that forms on the bottom of the pot for a flavorful but lighter-colored gravy.

Now, the recipe I give here isn’t exactly what my grandmother or most people's grandmas would make—it’s a li'l gussied up. All the feelings of comfort are still there, with just a little extra flavor. Traditionally, these stewed chicken dishes in the South were made with hens that were a bit older, cooking away on the stove all day so the tough meat could become tender; the long simmering also produced a greater depth of flavor .

Because most chickens sold today are younger and more tender, my recipe cuts down on the lengthier cooking times common in older recipes, so it’s ready in about an hour. I've also chosen to use just the legs instead of the whole bird, as they hold up well to stewing without drying out. To make up for some of the complexity those older birds would have given this dish, I add lots of herbs, cook down my onion, and make a rich roux to add a bit more depth.

I otherwise keep it simple, with aromatics like onions and celery forming much of the gravy's flavor base. Bell peppers, mushrooms, and other vegetables can be added, too, but I wouldn’t overthink or over-complicate things—this is a dish that should be pretty hands-off and simple to make.

Season chicken all over with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook until well browned, about 6 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken and cook on opposite sides until browned, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and transfer chicken to a platter. Set aside.

Seasoned, slightly browned chicken in a Dutch oven.
Jillian Atkinson

Reduce heat to medium, add onion and celery, and cook, stirring to prevent scorching, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil along with the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until peanut butter or darker in color, 3-5 minutes. While stirring vigorously, slowly add the stock. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then boil until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Stock being added to a roux.
Jillian Atkinson

Reduce heat to medium, then stir in garlic powder, onion powder, ground sage, ground oregano, and smoked paprika. Add the chicken pieces and return liquid to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, gently stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and beginning to fall from the bone and the sauce is reduced to a thick and silky texture, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Chicken simmering in sauce.
Jillian Atkinson

Serve over rice, grits, or pasta.

Chicken atop grits in white bowls.
Jillian Atkinson

Special Equipment

Dutch oven.

Notes

Water is a great substitute when you’re out of stock.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The prepared stew chicken can be refrigerated for up to 5 days; reheat gently to serve.

Chicken Yassa (Senegalese Braised Chicken With Caramelized Onions)

A citrus-forward version of your favorite stewed and smothered chicken-and-onion dishes.

Chicken yassa on a bed of white rice.
Jillian Atkinson

Growing up, I attended a Sufi mosque in South Carolina that served a community that was predominantly West African and African American. One of the benefits of this experience is that I was introduced to and fell in love with yassa at an early age. Despite eating it for years, I didn't know it was called yassa until I got into professional cooking; I thought of it as a more citrus-forward version of the stewed and smothered chicken-and-onion dishes I knew from my own home, like Lowcountry stew chicken. The preparation is pretty similar: Yassa starts with a meat, frequently chicken, that's marinated with onions and citrus juice, which is then braised in a rich onion base until the alliums are melted and caramelized.

I eventually did learn its name, and that it's from the Casamance region of Southern Senegal. The dish also reflects the area's history as a former French colony, since it's known both as poulet yassa (in French) and yassa ganaar (in Wolof). Most of its flavor comes from the relatively large amount of caramelized onion, which provides considerable depth of flavor and color. It also gets a nice tang that helps round out and cut through the richness and sweetness of the onions with the addition of lemon and/or lime juice and a little mustard. My recipe is inspired by multiple versions I've cooked over the years, including recipes from Chef Pierre Thiam's The Fonio Cookbook, cookbooks published by the food historian Jessica B. Harris, and others.

Chicken yassa on a bed of white rice.
Jillian Atkinson

Originally, the chicken or other protein would be grilled over a wood fire, then braised. To brown the chicken at home, I find it easiest to sear it deeply in a pan, even if it lacks the smoky notes of a wood-burning fire.

The Scotch bonnet pepper is the real kicker here, adding heat to every bite that (to me) is just right—it’s not burn-your-face-off hot, but just enough to give a little tingle on the lips and make you want to eat more. Ingredients like olives, bell peppers, and carrot are also frequently added, so feel free to include them in the braise if they appeal to you. Yassa is often served with rice to sop up the braising liquid, but it's also great with fonio, a traditional West African grain, or couscous.

For the marinated chicken: In a large bowl or zipper-lock bag, toss together chicken, lemon juice, diced onion, lime juice, oil, Scotch bonnet pepper, and salt until well combined. Cover bowl or seal bag, then marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 and up to 12 hours.

For the Yassa: Remove chicken from the marinade, scraping off any onions and peppers; discard the marinade. Using paper towels, blot chicken dry. In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chicken, skin-side down, and cook until well browned, about 6 minutes. Using a thin metal spatula, turn chicken and cook on second side until browned, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and transfer chicken to a platter.

Chicken drumsticks browning.
Jillian Atkinson

Lower heat to medium, add onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, about 7 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring and scraping frequently, until onions are dark brown and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Stir in garlic and mustard and cook until fragrant and slightly softened, about 1 minute.

Stewed onions topped with garlic and mustard.
Jillian Atkinson

Add chicken stock, Scotch bonnet pepper, bay leaf, and chicken along with any accumulated juices, nestling chicken pieces into the onions; season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Chicken stock, Scotch bonnet pepper, bay leaf, and chicken boiling.
Jillian Atkinson

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, gently stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and beginning to fall from the bone, about 1 hour. Season with salt, if needed. Serve with rice, couscous, or fonio, and lemon or lime wedges.

Falling-off-the-bone chicken simmering in liquid.
Jillian Atkinson

Make-Ahead and Storage

The Yassa can be refrigerated for up to 5 days in an airtight container. Reheat gently before serving.

Amethyst Ganaway’s Pantry Is Based Around a ‘Holy Trinity of Grains’

Welcome to Amethyst Ganaway’s Pantry! In each installment of this series, a recipe developer will share with us the pantry items essential to their cooking. This month, we’re exploring eight staples stocking Amethyst’s Southern and Low Country kitchen….

Welcome to Amethyst Ganaway’s Pantry! In each installment of this series, a recipe developer will share with us the pantry items essential to their cooking. This month, we're exploring eight staples stocking Amethyst’s Southern and Low Country kitchen.


“Southern food” is often used interchangeably with “soul food,” a term coined before, but most commonly used during and after, the Black Power and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The term describes the foods and foodways of Black Americans, as well as the reclaiming of African roots. Yet even today, some people still view soul or Southern food through the outdated lens of literal table scraps from white people, or as a lesser cuisine compared to European cultures. For me, the food is about honoring who we are at our core. The history and cultures put into a pot and poured into each bowl are rich, unique stories full of deep, different flavors.

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Southern Fried Rabbit

Tender and lean rabbit brined in buttermilk and spices and then dredged in seasoned flour and fried.

Buttermilk fried rabbit pieces on a serving plate
Vicky Wasik

Growing up, I didn’t really ever question what I was eating, especially if it tasted good. While a lot of people are turned off by the thought of eating a furry and cute creature like a rabbit, I’m not, mostly because I’ve eaten it a lot and I think it’s delicious, especially when it’s smothered, stewed, or fried.

If you don’t mind the idea of eating rabbit, you may have avoided seeking it out because you’ve been told that they’re difficult to find or prepare, which isn’t really true. Sure, they can be a little hard to find, you can find them at specialty grocery stores or put in an order at your local butcher, who might be able to help you out. Luckily for me, I’ve usually found rabbit farmers near where I’ve lived, and I’ll buy a few at a time, mostly processed (skin and innards removed, sometimes the head and feet removed, too), and freeze them. It’s cheaper to buy them this way, and since the main obstacle to buying rabbit after figuring out where to buy them is that the little critters are relatively expensive, it’s a good tip. If you don’t mind the cost, you can buy rabbit online, and you can usually get them broken down into individual serving pieces, so you don’t have to do that yourself.

However, rabbit isn’t difficult to prepare at all. The only thing that’s tricky about it is it’s quite lean, so you can easily overcook it, which makes the meat tough and dry. But if you can cook chicken you can cook rabbit, since it tastes sort of similar and is just as easy to prepare.

This recipe for fried rabbit is essentially the same as one for fried chicken: the meat is brined, dredged, and fried until crisp on the outside and juicy inside. For the brine, I use buttermilk and a mix of fresh herbs and dried spices. The mustard, paprika, and pepper add bite and a subtle smoky heat to the rabbit, the onion and garlic powders provide a more rounded, savory flavor, and the fresh thyme and rosemary brightens everything up a bit. And while the combination seasons the rabbit nicely, the buttermilk and salt give you a little wiggle room to ensure that the cooked rabbit doesn’t dry out. (Truthfully, you could use your favorite fried chicken recipe and just replace the chicken with rabbit, so long as that recipe calls for a brine—the brine is important!) Then I dredge the rabbit in a simple mixture of all-purpose flour, salt, and pepper, and let it rest for a little bit, which helps to keep the coating from falling off the rabbit in the fryer.

I love eating this fried rabbit for an anytime meal. It makes a great breakfast or brunch protein and is absolutely insane with biscuits and gravy or grits. Slice it or dice it up while cold and add it to a sandwich or salad for lunch. And, of course, it expands your dinner options, especially when you’re tired of eating chicken or fish or when you want to impress guests.

To Brine the Rabbit: In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, salt, mustard powder, paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, and thyme. Add rabbit pieces and toss to thoroughly coat. Transfer contents of bowl to a 1-gallon zipper-lock freezer bag and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours, flipping bag occasionally to redistribute the contents and coat rabbit evenly.

Rabbit pieces submerged in a bowl of buttermilk brine
Vicky Wasik

To Dredge and Fry: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 200°F (95°C). Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and pepper. Working with one piece of rabbit at a time, remove rabbit from marinade, allowing excess buttermilk to drip off, and add to flour mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat, pressing with your hands to get flour to adhere to rabbit in an even layer. Transfer to prepared wire rack, and repeat dredging process with remaining rabbit pieces. Let dredged rabbit rest for 15 minutes.

Collage of photos of process of dredging buttermilk brined rabbit pieces in seasoned flour and placing them on wire rack set in baking sheet
Vicky Wasik

Meanwhile, line a second rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and set a clean wire rack in it. Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet or 14-inch wok over medium-high heat to 350°F (175°C). Carefully add half the rabbit pieces and fry, adjusting heat to return to a 350°F (175°C) frying temperature, until golden brown on the first side, about 8-10 minutes. Using tongs, carefully flip rabbit pieces, and continue to fry until golden brown all over, and thickest part of rabbit registers 160°F (70°C) on an instant-read thermometer, about 7 minutes longer. Transfer fried rabbit to prepared wire rack, season lightly with salt, then transfer to oven to keep warm.

Collage of two photos of brined and dredged rabbit pieces being fried in a cast iron skillet
Vicky Wasik

Skim any browned bits from oil and discard. Return oil to 350°F (175°C), and repeat with remaining rabbit. Let rest 5 minutes. Serve.

Overhead photo of second batch of brined and dredged chicken being fried in a cast iron skillet
Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

12-inch cast iron skillet, 2 rimmed baking sheets, and 2 wire cooling racks.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The fried rabbit is best enjoyed immediately after frying. Placed in an airtight container, the rabbit will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days. To reheat, place chicken on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet in a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven; alternatively, you can refry it.

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A staple of the Southern table, Hoppin’ John is famously eaten on New Year’s Day, but is just as good any other day as well. This version features tender and earthy field peas cooked with fluffy rice and rich and smoky ham hocks.


A staple of the Southern table, Hoppin' John is famously eaten on New Year's Day, but is just as good any other day as well. This version features tender and earthy field peas cooked with fluffy rice and rich and smoky ham hocks. Read More

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This classic Charleston side dish features thick and creamy corn grits lightly flavored with Cheddar cheese and chives, and made airy like a soufflé when baked with beaten egg whites.


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A proper pot of grits should be smooth, creamy, and deeply flavorful. When made right, you won’t need more than a little salt and butter to finish them off.


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Smothered Turkey Wings

Brined until plump and juicy, braised until meltingly tender, and covered in a rich gravy, these turkey wings have all the flavor of the holidays, and none of the dry boringness.


Brined until plump and juicy, braised until meltingly tender, and covered in a rich gravy, these turkey wings have all the flavor of the holidays, and none of the dry boringness. Read More

Summer Is for Chilly Bears: A Frozen Treat Packed With History

Chilly bears, a.k.a. flips, a.k.a. honeydrippers, a.k.a huckabucks, are a frozen treat that embodies the twinned culinary histories of frozen desserts in America and the traditional red drinks of the African-American diaspora.


Chilly bears, a.k.a. flips, a.k.a. honeydrippers, a.k.a huckabucks, are a frozen treat that embodies the twinned culinary histories of frozen desserts in America and the traditional red drinks of the African-American diaspora. Read More