Even folks who didn’t grow up in the South often equate soul food with Southern food. To be sure, many of the dishes at places that self-identify as soul food restaurants seem quintessentially Southern: okra, sweet potatoes, butter beans and chicken with cabbage, to name just a few. Since the term means different things to different people, we asked Shantell Williams, a longtime friend and chef/owner of Shantell’s Just Until… in Sanford, how she defines it.
“The first person who made me consider my definition of soul food was my good friend Yvonne Parks, who is from St. Kitts. When she and I opened up a restaurant in Beacon, N.Y., she had two kids. At the time I had seven, so our lives were very different, but she and I both enjoyed cooking. However, soul food was not a term she used to describe her cooking. I thought, ‘What Black woman doesn’t make soul food?’ But then I considered that I didn’t cook with pork, and that to some my food wouldn’t meet the definition of soul food, either.
“So now I think of soul food as food that you’ve harvested, whether you literally grew it from the ground or spent your day working, clocked out, went grocery shopping and then came home and cooked. If you’ve put your love into it, it can be Italian, Asian, Southern—anything—just something you’ve worked hard to prepare that feeds your family and your soul. If you cook it with love, it’s soul food.”
We think you’ll love cooking this chicken with cabbage recipe – Williams and her kids call it “chick-cabba” – as much as you’ll enjoy eating eating it.
1 small frying chicken (see note)
Peanut or other high-heat oil such as grapeseed, avocado or coconut
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 head green cabbage, cored and thickly sliced
Sprig or two of fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon yellow or Dijon mustard
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Using a cleaver, a heavy chef’s knife or kitchen shears, remove the back and wing tips from the chicken (save for making chick-en stock). Cut into 8 pieces (two each breasts, wings, legs and thighs); cut each breast into three piece and halve legs and thighs. Season pieces liberally with salt and pepper and set aside.
In a large, preferably cast-iron skillet with a lid, pour enough oil to cover the bottom and a thin layer and heat uncovered over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot but has not begun
to smoke, carefully place the chicken pieces skin-side down into the skillet. Smother the chicken with the garlic, onion and carrots and place the lid on the pan. Meanwhile, place the cut cabbage into a bowl, cover with cold water and then drain, leaving the residual moisture on the leaves.
When the chicken is approximately halfway cooked, about 8 to 10 minutes, remove the lid and flip the chicken and vegetables with tongs or a pair of spatulas so that the chicken is on the top. Cover the chicken with the cabbage, season with thyme and paprika and close the lid. After 5 to 8 minutes, open the lid, add mustard and flip the cabbage to the bottom of the pan. Close the lid for a few minutes more or until chick-en is cooked through (you can cut through a piece to test).
Just before serving, pour over the balsamic vinegar and stir thoroughly, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the skillet. The cabbage will have yielded a lot of moisture, but the sauce is perfect for spooning over rice or sopping up with a crusty piece of bread.
Note: a smaller bird, not more than four pounds, will yield more flavor than a large one. If you prefer to use chick-en pieces, opt for thighs; either way, bone-in chicken will lend more savor to the final dish.
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