I wish I could tell you what is so special about this recipe. It's essentially a chicken fricassee, common in many cultures. And yet when my grandmother pulled her big roaster brimming with this creamed chicken from the oven, people scurried to table and undid the top button of their pants as a preventative measure against the inevitable belly-stuffing that lay ahead. That's the power, I suppose, of simple comfort food shared with those we love.
Some prep notes: Toss the chicken neck and gizzards into the pot during cooking; they'll impart some great flavor, and there always seems to be at least one person in a family who considers these items tasty prizes. If there isn't one of those people in your family, fish them out before serving. In the old country, smetana, a soured heavy cream, would have given this dish extra depth, but it's just as nice with the conventional dairy called for in the recipe below (I can imagine, though, that using creme fraiche would mimic the smetana effect).
A few words of advice on consumption: First, get in there early and get yourself a leg. The legs go fast and they're the perfect excuse for picking up your dinner and getting to lick creamy gravy off your fingers. Second, always ~ and I mean always ~ reserve at least a ladle's worth of gravy for the end to mop up with some bread.
Finally, creamed chicken is traditionally served with mamaliga, the Romanian take on the cormeal porridge better known as polenta. I posted a recipe for mamaliga last weekend so figured that you've now perfected the technique and need this stew to serve alongside it. The quantity is easily increased to serve many (my grandmother used to feed it to hundreds at church dinners). —Nostrovia_ca
large chicken, cleaned, skinned, and cut into 8 pieces
additional legs, skinned and thighs separated
large yellow cooking onion, diced
large cloves garlic, minced
ribs celery, diced
large carrots, peeled and diced
cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
unbleached all-purpose flour
35% or 18% cream, or a combination
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, mix together onions, garlic, celery, and carrots. Place half the vegetable mixture in an ovenproof lidded casserole. Layer chicken pieces (including neck and gizzards, if using) on top and cover with remaining vegetable mixture. Cover casserole and bake for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, cook mushrooms in a pan or skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until they begin to give up their moisture. When all their liquid has been released and they begin to brown slightly, remove them from the heat and reserve. (Cooking them separately means they don't water down the stew.)
After 1 hour of cooking time, remove casserole from oven and check stew. The vegetables should be nearly cooked through, the chicken should be starting to brown, and there should be a nice amount of liquid in the pot. (If vegetables are still crisp and chicken is undercooked, cover casserole and return to oven for an additional 15–20 minutes.) Place flour in a mixing bowl and add cream while whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth. Add cream, reserved mushrooms, and paprika to stew. Cover casserole and return to oven for 1/2 hour.
Remove casserole from oven and stir contents. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley or dill before serving with mamaliga and/or fresh bread.