Edna Staebler was a local gem who introduced the world to Waterloo County Cooking. Good, hearty fare that's very much rooted in country and Mennonite traditions.
When I was deciding upon which dish to present, my copy of Food That Really Schmecks literally fell open to page 57.
I think that's a sign.
Three recipes were on this page: a variation of Stuffing forRoast Fowl, Brown Gravy for Fowl and Butter-Fried Chicken with Milk Gravy.
Butter-Fried Chicken? I think Edna was definitely telling me something. And then I read the recipe:
"This is the way Mother cooked chicken most often and the way I like it best--even better than roast chicken--though that was supposed to be the most special. The milk gravy with this could be digested by a ninety-fve year old grandmother with a stomach ulcer, I'm sure, or a three-month-old baby"
"This gravy--or sauce--poured generously over plain boiled or riced potatoes with the butter-fried chicken and fresh vegetables is my favourite of all meals--as I think of it at this moment."
Well, how could I not make this dish? Especially when she writes about how her mum would cut up a "nice yellow little hen."
That nice yellow little hen is hard to find in modern grocery stores as most of chickens offered are bred for today's lean palates. Not a layer of yellow fat to be seen. That's fine. It simply means less fat to skim from the pot. That said, if you are lucky to find a plump hen, skim the fat and keep it for frying or roasting, or even baking.
This is a very, very simple recipe: joint a chicken, cover it in boiling water, remove the pieces when they are tender and brown the pieces in butter. Reduce the boiling liquid to three cups, add milk and then a thickener.
I've made some changes to the recipe--adding aromatics to the cooking liquid, as if I were making a regular chicken stock. I'll probably revisit this recipe to play with the flavourings a bit--perhaps adding some middle eastern or Indian influences.
Oh...and the leftover gravy (if you have some)? Reheat it and pour it over some crusty bread. Edna says so.
Butter Fried Chicken with Milk Gravy
adapted from Edna Staebler's recipe in Food That Really Schmecks
1 1.5-2kg (3-4lb) chicken
2L (8c) water
One onion, quartered
2 celery stalks, chopped into two or three large pieces
2 carrots, chopped into 5cm pieces
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig of sage
1 spig of rosemary
1dsp (2tsp/10ml) salt
1 rounded tsp black pepper
435ml (1.75c) milk, divided
35g (0.25c/60ml) flour
A handful (0.25c/4Tbsp/60ml) parsley, chopped
1-2Tbsp (15-30ml) butter
Joint the chicken, that is to say, cut it into pieces: two legs, thighs, wings and breasts. If the breasts are large, cut them into two pieces each. Leave the skin on. Save the backbone, wingtips, neck and giblets (if your bird was lucky enough to come with its neck and giblets).
Layer the meat in a large pot, so the pieces don't overlap. Tumble in the vegetables, neck, wingtips and giblets, followed by the herbs and seasonings. Pour in water to cover.
Cover and set on a medium to medium high flame. Let the pot come to a boil and let it blurble for about five minutes, before turning down the heat to simmer the broth. Let simmer until the chicken is tenderly cooked--in total this should take about 30-40 minutes, depending upon the size of your bird and how long it takes to bring your water up to a boil.
Scum the broth. Remove the chicken pieces and pat them dry.
For the milk gravy:
Turn the heat up and let the stock, with the bones, veggies, etc, boil uncovered. When the liquid has reduced by half, remove the bones, giblets and veggies, then strain out any other bits (herbs, spices, any stray chickenny bits).
Return the strained liquid to the pot and let boil down to about 750ml (3c).
Stir in 250ml (1c) milk and let the gravy come up to a bare simmer. Taste and balance flavours according to your palate.
Make a slurry with the remaining 185ml (0.75c) milk and the flour. Whisk into the gravy let thicken. Check the flavours and adjust as you wish.
For the chicken:
Brown the chicken in batches by melting a couple of teaspoons of butter in a hot pan then adding three or four pieces of chicken to the pan. Turn the pieces to ensure any remaining fat is rendered out and that the skin is evenly browned and crisp. Remove the chicken and add more butter (if needed) and continue browning the chicken.
Stir the parsley into the gravy just before serving.
Serve with veggies and potatoes (boiled, mashed, riced or roasted) or rice, pouring the gravy over the potatoes or rice...and chicken, if you wish,