Gravy finally gets the recognition it deserves as the indulgent star of my Smothered Chicken. Tender pieces of poultry, braised in this creamy condiment, turns mealtime into “mmmm” time. This Southern Smothered Chicken with Gravy will bring the family to the dinner table in a flash!
Is there anything “gooder” than gravy? There’s a reason you find it used in dishes for lunch, dinner, and breakfast. If they bottled it and sold it in a squeeze container next to the ketchup and mustard, it’d be on all our tables at every . . . single . . . meal.
There is something “gooder,” though – something that’s actually cooked in the gravy! That’s the mouthwatering premise behind the most comforting of all comfort foods, my Smothered Chicken.
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WHAT IS SMOTHERED CHICKEN?
Leave it to Southern cooks, or at least the fine Cajuns in Louisiana, to develop the “smothered” technique, a way to transform pan juices into a rich, flavor-packed gravy that elevates whatever’s cooking inside it to soul-soothing status.
The process basically pan-fries something – could be pork or chicken, wild game like venison or quail, or even vegetables like okra, makes an epic gravy with the pan drippings, then nestles the pan-fried thing into the big ol’ pot of awesome to finish cooking.
This decadent braising transforms meat into tender, tantalizing morsels (or manages to make something like good-for-you veggies a little less healthy, LOL), while the whole dish thickens and concentrates flavors into the kind of creamy concoction foodie dreams are made of.
There is some “short-cut” recipes that use mushroom or other cream-based canned soups to create the gravy, things like baked smothered chicken, smothered chicken crockpot style and smothered chicken and rice. Since these versions bypass the pan-frying step altogether, the cooking methods just aren’t conducive to making a homemade gravy without a little help from the stuff in the can.
With my recipe, we can make an easy Smothered Chicken right on the stovetop that coaxes all the flavor out of the chicken with no cream-of-this-or-that required.
True Southern smothered chicken uses a whole, cut-up chicken (instead of just smothered chicken breast or thigh pieces), which are dusted lightly with flour, browned in oil, then cooked in a fragrant, homemade chicken gravy.
HOW DO YOU MAKE HOMEMADE CHICKEN GRAVY?
Gravy is really such a simple thing to make, with so much natural flavor, it’s a wonder it’s not a more-frequently used condiment.
There are two types of gravy – pan gravy and thickened gravy, which both rely on flavorful pan juices and drippings to build the base. The latter, which requires something to help “thicken” all that tasty stuff in the pan, is the glorious glue that brings this whole dish together.
To make homemade chicken gravy, you basically need some fat, some aromatics, flour or an alternative starchy thickener, plus a little chicken stock.
For this particular recipe, we’ll start with some of the vegetable oil our chicken was fried in. That oil has been enriched with some of the chicken fat that’s melted during the cooking process, plus some of the salt and pepper that managed to sneak off the chicken.
As a base, it doesn’t get more flavorful than that!
Next, we’ll saute our aromatic component, comprised of the usual suspects: onions, garlic, celery, and carrots, in this lovely liquid. These classic “mirepoix” ingredients will soften enough to release their natural oils and flavors into the gravy but still leave a little texture in the finished product.
Even though some recipes like the Patti Labelle smothered chicken version omit the carrots, I think they add a subtle sweetness to the gravy that reminds me of a classic chicken pot pie.
Next comes the flour, and it’s used as the primary thickener in this dish. We’re basically creating a roux here, though we won’t cook it to a dark stage like you’d want for a gumbo. We just want to eliminate the raw flour taste and allow it to marry the leftover fat in the pan well enough for the gravy to emulsify.
Our homemade gravy needs some liquid, and I use a good quality chicken stock. The smothered chicken Paula Deen makes uses milk instead of broth, which makes a nice creamy gravy but it lacks the depth you’ll achieve by using a seasoned liquid.
And, speaking of seasoning, this gravy is seasoned simply with just a touch of cayenne pepper and poultry seasoning, that spice we only pull out once a year for Thanksgiving stuffing. The primary ingredient in poultry seasoning is sage, and you’ll find some recipes (like the smothered chicken Cooks Country version) only use sage in the smothering sauce.
The truth is poultry seasoning has several other herbs like rosemary and thyme that help complement the chicken too (or that Thanksgiving turkey), so it’s a great blend to use in this dish.
CAN YOU MAKE GRAVY WITHOUT FLOUR?
There are other thickeners you can substitute for the flour in this recipe if you have a gluten sensitivity. Sweet rice flour (or white rice flour if you can’t find the sweet variety) will work as a one-to-one substitute in the gravy here.
The starch content is even a little higher than a wheat flour, so you may find it’s even smoother than what you’re used to.
You can also thicken the gravy with a slurry of water and cornstarch, which works great in Asian-style sauces like my Honey Garlic Chicken, but I find it changes the mouthfeel of this gravy quite a bit.
The browned chicken pieces will finish cooking in this velvety mixture and be close to falling-off-the-bone tender. Just be sure to keep the mixture at a simmer and don’t let the gravy boil once the chicken’s been added or else the chicken pieces can toughen instead.
You’ll also want to add any juices that have accumulated in the plate your chicken’s resting on – we don’t want to waste a bit of flavor!
I like to garnish my Smothered Chicken with chopped parsley which adds a nice pop of color, and either dry or fresh will work here. If you’re feeling particularly frisky, you can even crumble six or eight pieces of cooked bacon on top.
RECIPE NOTES FOR SMOTHERED CHICKEN:
The sum of its parts: If you’re partial to one particular part of the chicken, you can use all breasts (like I do in my Buttermilk Roasted Chicken) or all thighs and legs.
Just choose bone-in pieces of chicken to ensure they have maximum flavor and cook more evenly.
Dusting – Flouring the chicken before pan-frying accomplishes two things.
First, it helps provide a little texture for the outside of the chicken that will ultimately help the gravy cling to it. Second, some of that flour will fall off into the oil and aid the thickening process later on.
What you don’t want to do is over-flour the chicken, though.
The flour that falls off is more susceptible to burning which can make the gravy taste bitter. To avoid this, be sure to shake off any excess flour (I like to knock the pieces together or against a dish) before you gently plop the chicken pieces into the hot oil.
Also watch the temperature carefully and adjust it, if necessary, to avoid over-browning the bits floating in the oil.
Smotherable sides – I’m pretty sure it’s a sin not to serve this with mashed potatoes (since gravy’s its soulmate), but tender egg noodles or steamed rice work well too.
For a little veggie side, I suggest something in keeping with the Southern theme of this recipe like stewed okra, collard greens, or my Southern Green Beans.
Source: Adapted from Allrecipes/Cooks Country
- 1- 3-4 Pound Whole Chicken, Cut Into 8 Pieces
- 3/4 Cup Plus 3 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour~Divided
- 1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
- 2 Cups Yellow Onion Chopped
- 1 Cup Celery Chopped
- 3 Cloves Garlic Chopped
- 2 Cups Carrots Chopped
- 3 Cups Chicken Broth
- 1/2 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
- 1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- 2 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley Chopped
- Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Sprinkle chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. In a shallow bowl, spread 3/4 cup all-purpose flour. Dredge chicken pieces, one at a time, in flour mixture, shaking off any excess.
- Heat vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken pieces, skin side down, cooking 4-6 minutes until nicely browned. Remove browned chicken to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces, adjusting heat as need, so not to burn the flour.
- Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the oil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onions, celery, garlic, and carrots and cook until veggies are soft, 7-8 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour over veggies and stir to combine. Continue to cook for 1 minute. Mix in broth, poultry seasoning, cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Nestle chicken pieces into sauce along with any accumulated juices. Partially cover and simmer chicken 30-40 minutes, or until cooked through and tender.
- Transfer chicken to a deep platter. Adjust gravy seasoning if needed, then pour over chicken. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
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