Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Home Place: Traditional Hatchie Botton Stew

Down Home

Down home cooking - what is it to you? Everyone has their own version. A meal traditionally served at a certain time or on a specific occasion. Usually a hearty comfort food that cures what ails you. It could be your family's Christmas morning breakfast or just the annual Thanksgiving meal. To me, it's something special, a meal that has been eaten by my ancestors for over a century. It's called Hatchie Bottom Stew, and it's my down home meal. The stew around the West Tennessee homelands originated with a number of things that come together only in the Fall season, when temperatures start to cool, and a hearty, warm stew is the ultimate comfort food. This is a stew inspired by my ancestors from Virginia, where the traditional Brunswick stew is a staple food. It may be served at squirrel-hunting camps, family reunions, church dinner-on-the-grounds, political rallies, or any other gathering.

Our farmer friends often freeze the basic ingredients and make a stew in the middle of winter when farming slows down. Fall is the ultimate food season to me because:

1) The late crop of sweet corn is at its peak.
2) The tomatoes are late in the season and are the sweetest and most flavorful.
3) Squirrel season has opened, and the little critters are plentiful.

The Setup

It's a simple food, taking very few ingredients, but lots of time, and usually some help with the stirring. Because this dish does take time, it's recommended that it be prepared outside, as is traditional, in the biggest pot you can find. Perhaps something in the near-bath tub variety. Your normal kitchen utensils need not apply to this task - you'll need a wooden tool that more closely resembles a boat paddle.

Now for the ingredients, you can make as big of a stew as you can fit in you pot, but the ingredients are as follows:

- One chicken (skin, meat and bones)

- One squirrel (not required, but traditional), meat and bones

- One stalk of celery, roughly chopped

- One onion, cut into eight chunks

- One can diced tomatoes

- One can corn


The method can be somewhat of a marathon. This is where the help comes in.

1. First, fill your large pot with all your meat, the celery, and the onion. Fill the rest of the pot with water. Then bring it to a boil.

2. Once it is boiling, cover it and turn off the heat (do not uncover until the outside is cool to the touch). By this time the meat will be cooked through. Now it is time to pick it. Begin pulling the meat off of the bones making sure to keep everything but keep the meat separate (this means no cartilage). It doesn't hurt to quickly run a knife through the meat to make sure that none of the pieces are too stringy and long.

3. After you have this completed, strain half of your original liquid, put meat in strained liquid and begin to simmer, stirring occasionally.

4. The rest of the liquid should then be boiled with the bones and skin to produce an excellent stock. As the pot with the meat begins to thicken and reduce, the addition of the stock is recommended after straining (when stock is finished, bones may then be discarded).

5. Once all liquid is added it is time to add the tomatoes. Continue to simmer for an hour, then add the corn, once the corn is added, the stew will begin to thicken quickly and will begin to stick to the sides. To combat this, constant stirring is necessary for an additional hour. After this final hour the stew is ready to serve.

The stew - not quite thick enough yet, but it will tighten up as time goes by


Service of the stew should be done quickly while it is still hot, or cooled in small batches and frozen. In my mind, only four things are appropriate as accompaniments: white bread, saltine crackers, cheddar cheese, and hot sauce. Anything else is just too much.

Further musings

The Anti-Recipe - Many great foods have great recipes. To make Hatchie Bottom Stew great, it is more important to observe what you don't do, and what you don't put in it. My Grandma Dorothy grew up at the center of the stew universe. Her highest compliment is "Well, I hear he makes a real clean stew."


- No Chicken knuckles (Bone-end cartlidge -- see Squirrel Heads, below)

- No Squirrel heads (Pick the meat out of the stock, then strain, rather than trying to pick stuff out of the stew pot as it floats by while cooking.)

- No Shotgun Pellets (Again, strain the stock and only put in the final pot what you want to eat!)

- No Livers or Gizzards (There is no more "dirty" stew than one that has livers and gizzards floating by. It's even dirtier if you grind them up. [See Anti-Method below.] Yuck!!!!! Dirty rice is one thing, dirty stew is entirely unacceptable.)

- No Butterbeans (Many good Brusnwick Stew recipes include butterbeans aka Lima Beans. That's fine, soup with butterbeans is often really good, it's just not stew)

- No Green vegetables (That might make it healthy)

- No Strawberries (Some noted stew-making friends of ours always froze mass quantities of stew ingredients whenever they were in season. They also froze a big batch of strawberries. You can see that train wreck coming. Actually, the amount of strawberries in the mass quantity of stew made little difference, but the story was good!)

Anti-Method - Do not grind anything you put in stew. Many people put their stew through a meat grinder. You grind meat for Vienna Sausage and Potted Meat. NOT STEW!!!! Your pulled chicken meat should be chopped up chicken salad size. I guess some people grind their stew to avoid that stringy old rooster!

- Dirt McGurt

Cover Me Christmas: Just Lay Down the Track...

Listen, love and get filled with Great Lakes Christmas Ale to a great cover of Hanoi Rock's "Dead By Christmas" by the Murder City Devils.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Man B Que-Approved: Leon's

Ed. Note: Please welcome the KingT to the Man B Que blog. He's a born and raised Chicagoan who runs the ChiBBQKing blog. This article originally appeared here, and now we're printing it for some of that sweet, sweet reflected glory.

Is Chicago a BBQ town? most out of towners might think so but others from here and also those who aren't might disagree. I view us as a 2nd tier BBQ destination. I also believe there was a time back in the day when it was much more of a presence here in Chicago. However there aren't too many places that aren't considered a part of the BBQ trail that have their very own regional style of 'cue. If you go to any respectable and real BBQ place in Chicago they will have a few things for sure. Rib Tips and links that are smoked in an aquarium style smoker is pure Chicago. While I don't consider Chicago to be an amazing BBQ town it has its fair share of places that have always done it right. One of these famous destinations and well known establishments is Leon's.

Just like any other spot in the food game if you've been around since 1941-which Leon's has-you are going to become legendary. Mississippi native Leon Finney Sr. started to smoke out Chicago in 1941. He started the business with his aunt and to this day it remains in the Finney family. As time passed and the legend grew they expanded and have quite a few locations in the area. Just like anywhere else that has this many outposts, the quality can vary. Also like any BBQ place the consistency can vary. There are a few Leon's including the one Lincoln Park that are franchised owned but I never go to them. If you want the real pork you have to make it to the southside to get the up to par standard that Leon Sr. set the bar with. I have heard that one of the older locations is the 79th street spot in South Chicago. I think its most likely the only location I've been to. It's another spot I've been hitting up since I had my license. Its located off the skyway on 79th just past Stoney.

Now don't get me wrong, I love ribs and they are one of my favorite things to eat but I usually order rib tips from Chicago BBQ joints. Its a part of our cuisine and when done up right I enjoy them greatly. The perfect combination of smoke and fat can make for a heavenly snack. I always order my BBQ with sauce on the side. I don't think smoked meat should be slathered in BBQ sauce. It takes away from the flavor and texture when its swimming in sauce. Its not that I don't like BBQ sauce with my smoked meat I just prefer to dip each bite ever so slightly so I get a taste of pig, smoke and sauce. The rib tips at Leon's can be good not great but usually very good. They have some good smoke flavor but sometimes can be too fatty, chewy and or just not chopped right which is more about the prep then taste.

It was on a day that Leon's was out of rib tips that I discovered their hot links. Obviously I have a love for encased meat along with a love for spicy and smokey. So hot links are one of my ideal eats and one of my favorite spots for them is at Leon's. I would recommend getting the dinner plate which is always enough for leftovers. However one of their great deals is the hot link sandwich which for under $4 gets you a couple links some of their fresh cut fries and a few pieces of wonder bread all soaked in their BBQ sauce. The sandwich is a meal in itself and has been in the lunch or dinner rotation for many people throughout the years. Leon's does it up consistently and that's what people are comfortable with. Its also one of those places where everything on the menu is popular from the ribs to the wings and everything in between. It's one of those stops that if your going to claim Chicago, well then you better know about the original.

- KingT

Monday, December 14, 2009

Manly Mixtape Monday: Your Black-Eyed Peas Antidote

The Manly Mixtape is a weekly six-pack of songs on a theme. It will rock your face every Monday.

There's a reason that hip hop has a bad reputation - everyone representing the genre on TV is either an idiot like Lil Jon or a bland, Wal-Mart friendly group like the Black-Eyed Peas. The latter is especially egregious. Their latest, "I've Gotta Feeling," mixes in Yiddish to prove that the group can suck in not just one, but two languages.

Luckily, we've got a solution for all of that. What follows is a selection of six excellent hip hop songs guaranteed not to throw you into a homicidal rage.

Madvillain - "All Caps"

Madvillain is the collaborative project between producer Madlib and rapper MF Doom, the greatest supervillain-themed rapper ever to throw down a verse. This animated video may invoke some Saturday morning nostalgia, but don't be mistaken, Doom wears that mask in real life as well. This Mixtape could easily be all Doom all the time.

Digable Planets - "Rebirth of the Slick (Cool Like Dat)"

Everyone's got the 1990s one-hit wonder that they can't stop enjoying. I suppose this is mine. If you want to see the video - which is actually pretty well shot - you'll have to link over to YouTube. The record label of this long-disbanded group apparently thinks embedding the real thing will hurt their sales. Jackasses.

Common - "Be"

Common is undoubtedly one of Chicago's finest, even if "Terminator: Salvation" sucked. I mean - one Terminator in the Terminator factory? What the Hell, man? But I'm getting off-topic. Despite the fact that parts of this video look suspiciously like NYC, I'll let that slide. I dig the line "Chicago nights, they stay on the mind." I'd agree, but add that a lot of those memories feature extended blurry spots.

Jurassic 5 - "What's Golden"

J5's three really good albums make up for recording a song with Dave Matthews on their last, terrible, one. They were a lot better than Wu-Tang at successfully incorporating the styles of multiple MCs. Now they're gone, and I blame Dave Matthews.

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Panjabi MC, feat. Jay-Z - "Beware"

I have an unexplainable love for Indian music, which I neither attempt to apologize for or explain. Apparently, this is something I have in common with Jay-Z, who during his time as the biggest rapper in the world decided to contribute a few verses to the debut U.S. album of an obscure but talented Indian hip hop artist. Jay is actually contributing to an existing track - "Mundian to Bach Ke" - which is itself based on the Knight Rider theme. Sweet. As is the bitchin' Bollywood-influenced video, edited down from the original song's video.

The Roots, feat. Cody Chesnutt - "The Seed 2.0"

The Roots are madly talented - why they ever decided to back up Jimmy Fallon's unfunny schtick on late night, I will never know. At least it's a steady paycheck for a band that puts on the most amazing live show I've ever seen.

- JB Mays