Smothered Chicken: The ultimate soulfood recipe you need to know

TThe word “suffocate” doesn’t always have the best meaning (see: relationships or preventing someone from breathing). But when it comes to cooking, it’s something I crave when I need comfort. Essentially a stovetop pot roast, smothering is a technique most commonly associated with chicken or pork — but can also be used with other types of animal proteins, as well as vegetables — where the braising liquid is thickened to create a delicious gravy to build. And this sauce is the true star of the dish.

“The gravy could be a meal in its own right if you get it right,” says chef and cookbook author Adrienne Cheatham.

The exact origins of smothering are unknown. The earliest reference I’ve found in print is a “To Smother Young Chickens” recipe at Lettice Bryan’s The Kentucky Housewife, originally published in 1839. Some attribute it to Cajun and Creole cuisines in Louisiana, where “étouffée” translates to “smothered.” In South Carolina’s Lowcountry, stew chicken is almost identical to what others know as smothered chicken. I consider it the quintessential soul food dish and a staple of Southern cuisine in general, and regardless of what it’s called or where it came from, one thing’s for sure: the dish is loaded with comfort.

I tend to think of the dish as a technique rather than an exact recipe, as each individual has their own preferences for which cut of chicken to use, whether to dredge it in flour before browning, what veggies to use, and more. Follow my recipe below for what I consider to be a classic version of the dish, or use the steps below as a starting point to create your own smothered chicken.

Step 1: Season and sear the chicken. Growing up, I remember my mother often buying packets of whole, cut-up chickens to cook, but I would caution against this today. While you can technically use any cut of chicken you have on hand, “You want to use bone-in dark meat, preferably thighs or thigh and leg quarters,” says Cheatham. With chicken breasts – “Blasphemy!” Cheatham exclaims – you need to reduce cooking time compared to dark meat, and you don’t get the same depth of flavor as a result.

To flavor the chicken, I opt for garlic powder and smoked paprika powder (in addition to salt and pepper) in the recipe below. Cheatham is a fan of celery seed powder. You can use your favorite store-bought spice blend or create your own.

Another point of contention is whether to dredge the chicken pieces in flour before searing. The smothered chicken I remember making when I was young was basically fried chicken with gravy. While the flour coating gives the sauce some grip, I wanted to limit the amount of oil that would otherwise be required. Eliminating this step streamlines the recipe without significantly changing the outcome. Not dredging also means you can shed the fat from the chicken as it browns, further reducing the need for additional oil.

Step 2: Sweat the vegetables. Once the chicken is browned and set aside, vegetables are added to the pan to form the base of the sauce. I like the simplicity of onion and garlic. Both sides of Cheatham’s family used either the “Trinity” (onion, celery, and green peppers) or onion, celery, and mushrooms. She favors the Trinity but is not committed to it and uses various vegetables that she has on hand.

Step 3: Make a roux. After the vegetables have cooked down a bit, dust them with flour before adding liquid to form the sauce. I like my sauce full-bodied, so I ask for more flour than some recipes, but you can reduce if you prefer a thinner consistency. And while all-purpose flour certainly gets the job done, Cheatham recommends Wondra, a type of instant flour that dissolves easily and eliminates any worries about lumps.

Step 4: Add liquid and sauté the chicken. “I usually end it with wine or beer,” says Cheatham. “Honestly, I use whatever I have in the fridge or what’s already open.” I like the crisp acidity of a white wine like pinot grigio to scrape off the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Then broth or water will make up the rest of the braising liquid. Add dairy for a creamier sauce, or stir in a can of creamed mushrooms or chicken soup. A few sprigs of thyme will help flavor the braising liquid in the recipe below. Sage and bay leaves are also common, but soy sauce, Dijon mustard, or Worcestershire sauce can add extra zest. Finally, simmer on the stovetop until the chicken is tender and the gravy is full of flavor (although you can roast it in the oven if you like).

There are as many variations of smothered chicken as there are chefs, and you can’t go wrong once you master the basic steps and basics. However, almost everyone agrees that it’s always a good idea to serve it with rice to soak up the sauce.

There are as many variations of smothered chicken as there are chefs, and you can’t go wrong once you master the basic steps and basics

(Scott Suchman/Washington Post)

Smothered Chicken

Active time: 45 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes

serves: 4 to 6

Smothered chicken is a traditional southern dish where chicken pieces are simmered with flavors and liquid to form a delicious sauce. There are as many ways of cooking as there are cooks, so don’t hesitate to use this recipe as a template for your own creation. The finished dish is usually served with rice to soak up the sauce.


2 tbsp vegetable oil

1¼ tsp fine salt, divided, plus more to taste

1 tsp ground black pepper, plus more to taste

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp smoked paprika

1.4 kg chicken thigh quarters, patted dry (can substitute thighs and/or drumsticks) (see notes below)

2 medium yellow onions (approx. 400g), halved and thinly sliced

3 to 4 cloves of garlic, chopped or finely grated

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

120 ml dry white wine, e.g. B. Pinot Grigio (see notes)

240 ml unsalted or low-sodium chicken stock

2 to 3 sprigs of fresh thyme


In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika until well combined. Sprinkle the spice mixture all over the chicken.

Working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, place the chicken skin-side down in the pan and sear until nicely browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Flip the chicken and fry on the other side until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter or rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chicken if needed.

Add the onions and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt to the pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook, stirring regularly, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the wine and scrape any sticky bits off the bottom of the pan. Add broth and thyme, stir and bring to a boil. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan, partially cover and cook, adjusting heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer, until the chicken is fully cooked (an instant read thermometer should be at least Show 75°C when inserted into the thickest part of the chicken without touching the bone) and tender, about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt and/or pepper to taste. Discard sprigs of thyme and serve (see notes).


If you’re avoiding alcohol, substitute an equal amount of additional chicken broth and a dash of vinegar in place of the wine.

If using leg quarters, you can slice each quarter into thighs and drumsticks for more servings.

How to store: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

Nutritional information per serving, based on 6 | Calories: 482; total fat: 32 g; saturated fat: 8 g; cholesterol: 151 mg; Sodium: 655 mg; carbohydrates: 11 g; Fiber: 2g; sugar: 3 g; Protein: 33g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a nutritionist or nutritionist.

© The Washington Post

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