Talk About Comfort Food – How to Make Chicken Baked in Cornbread
|By Meg Jones – wife, mother,
It’s a dreary rainy day at the end of October. The virus is surging, the election is pending, and “I WANT MY MOMMY!”
Days like this make me reminiscent, and today I keep thinking about my mom’s comfort food. I was a child of the ‘60’s, so most of what we ate came from a box or a can, and I loved it all.
Our standard pasta was spaghetti with Spatini spaghetti sauce (I can still hear the jingo in my head); though no longer in production, I can still taste it. Beef stroganoff made with cream of mushroom soup served over egg noodles – a favorite. Meatloaf was another standard, as was “Shrimp Louisiana,” a dish so laced with sherry I could barely choke it down as a kid.
Then there were sloppy joe’s or hot crabwiches for Sunday supper. And finally, a pork-chop-with-tomato-and-onion-slices-baked-in-rice that all my siblings remember with fondness but that I remember as being like eating a mouthful of cotton balls – SO dry (those were the days when pork was cooked to ultra-well done to prevent trichinosis. Remember?).
It’s funny to think back on these dishes and then fast-forward to our family over the last 15 years. My kids will tell you that our go-to comfort meals are risotto with shrimp and peas (my way of sneaking veggies into them when they were little), or penne with Italian tuna, artichoke hearts and olives, or a roasting pan heaped with chicken thighs, quartered potatoes, mushrooms, red onion wedges, and Kalamata olives. To my mind, these dishes are all really simple with ingredients we typically have on hand, but they couldn’t be further away from the fare offered up to me in my youth.
Over the years, I tried my hand at some of my mother’s dinners. The meatloaf I made for my family was a total non-starter, even when I inserted the hard-boiled eggs into the center as taught to me by a college roommate. The feedback was, basically, “if you have to do this, make it meatballs.”
The Reluctant Gourmet prides himself on his Bolognese sauce so I never even bothered to try replicating Spatini Spaghetti Sauce. I tried sloppy joe’s (too messy – !) and crabwiches (who serves crabmeat with melted cheese??), and skipped the Shrimp Louisiana and yucky pork casserole. And I never tried Mom’s favorite dessert – broiled grapefruit drizzled with honey. I should.
How Is It Prepared?
My very favorite of my mother’s dishes was chicken baked in cornbread. I made it once for my family and my girls thought it was “weird” and didn’t much seem to like it, so I never went back to it. Until now.
Maybe it’s my longing for simpler times, but as I sit here looking out on the gray landscape I can smell and taste that casserole. What made it so good was the melding of chicken fat from the skin into the baking cornbread. And from my perspective it was the combination in one forkful that seemed sort of fancy….maybe it was my early notion of “en croute”?
My Mom used only thighs and legs for this dish, which added to the richness. Though I don’t recall, I imagine she used a box mix for cornbread although making it from scratch is not particularly taxing. Anyway, it couldn’t have been easier to make.
She used bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and legs, one each per person, so for most of my childhood that was three of us since I am so much younger than my siblings. She seared the thighs and legs in a cast iron pan, using a little bit of Crisco.
Once they were sufficiently browned on the outside, she arranged them as one might a group of synchronized swimmers in a circle – leg/thigh/leg/thigh/leg/thigh, with the meaty part of the leg pointing toward the outside of the circular pan. It all seemed to fit so nicely.
Then she poured cornbread batter over the seared chicken and baked until the cornbread was done, per the “usual” baking instructions. There was always a little bit of chicken peeking out above the bread, which made it easy to figure out where to cut when serving portions.
I always ate the chicken and cornbread in combination; my kids scraped the cornbread off the chicken with a knife. As my mother always said, happiness is having an alternative.
I can’t wait to make this tonight. I’m going to cop out and use my favorite box cornbread mix, Krusteaz Honey Cornbread, but I’ve included a “from-scratch” version in the RG recipe. And who knows, if I get REALLY inspired, I just may broil up some grapefruit for dessert.
Chicken with Cornbread
A family classic from my wife’s childhood
Servings: 4 persons
- 4 chicken thighs bone-in, skin-on
- 4 chicken legs bone-in, skin-on
- 2 tablespoons Crisco substitute butter or other oil for searing chicken
For the Cornbread
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup butter 1 stick, melted
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Prepare the cornmeal batter: melt the ½ cup butter and set aside. Whisk together the dry ingredients (cornmeal,flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt).
In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs, and then add these to the dry ingredients. Blend but don’t over mix. Finally, drizzle in the melted butter and combine.
In a cast iron skillet or other oven proof pan, melt Crisco over medium-high heat. When hot, sear the chicken on all sides until the skin is brown, about 3 minutes per side.
Arrange the chicken pieces alternating leg/thigh with the meaty part of the leg toward the outside of the pan. Pour cornbread batter over the chicken.
Bake for about 25 minutes until the cornbread begins to brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Cool for a few minutes, then slice around the chicken pieces and serve.