A hearty, aromatic Chicken Leek Stew is served with mashed potatoes in this recipe for comfort food. This one is for all the cooks who find joy in the kitchen.
A former colleague’s Instagram name appeared in my notifications over the weekend. I clicked over, happy to see her beaming face. Just a few photos in was her recent wedding. Wearing a fabulous fascinator with a bouquet of flowers in hand, she was beaming, arm in arm with new husband. I couldn’t help but smile too.
The photos, from her city hall wedding, were so Carrie Bradshaw. And that’s exactly who she reminded me of when we worked together. She was forever finding unusual, interesting and unexpected outfits to rock. So the wedding, from the fascinator to her dress, couldn’t have been more perfect.
When we last worked together about nine years ago, she was married. I don’t know when (nor does it matter) that marriage ended. Things change. People grow apart. People need different things. And that’s okay. She probably doesn’t know that my marriage ended too. For that matter, many people probably don’t. It’s not something I’ve spoken widely about.
I used to be married. Now I’m not. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. Sometimes things don’t work out, sometimes you realize that all the trying in the world won’t make you happier. Sometimes, you have to choose joy and happiness and let things change.
For a while, I rolled that d-word around in my mouth. It felt odd and foreign, uncomfortable and ill-fitting. And maybe because it is. Yes, I am divorced. But contrary to what the bubbles on forms tell me, that doesn’t define me. And it doesn’t define my friends, former colleagues and family members who’ve been divorced too. It’s something that’s happened. And there can be more.
My life is more than my divorce.
Looking at that former colleague, I hope someday that’s me too. A simple city hall wedding. A fabulous outfit. And more importantly than anything else: sheer, unbridled happiness marrying the right person.
We all deserve happiness.
But happiness isn’t just about that special relationship. It’s about being happy with yourself, enjoying your life and surrounding yourself with good people who bring out the best in you. It’s about caring for yourself and your needs, while also being an active and valuable participant in the lives of your loved ones. And it’s about indulging the things that make you, well, you.
One of the things that makes me me is my love of cooking. At the end of a long, hard day, there are a few things that can make it all better again. A long walk. Laughter. Relaxing with a glass of wine. And getting into the kitchen to make something really good, like this comforting bowl of Chicken Leek Stew with Mashed Potatoes. There’s something so centering about letting go of everything else that’s on my mind and just focusing on the chopping, stirring and making of something that’s good. So good.
This stew relies heavily on the natural flavors that carrots and leeks, a favorite of mine, bring to the dish. A member of the onion family, leeks are sweet but savory, and wonderful sauteed as they are initially in this recipe (so are the carrots!). But there’s more to leeks than that. They’re complicated. You can’t just rinse them in water, they need to soak, be swished around and allowed to sit for awhile before they’ll really release the bits of dirt that get trapped between their layers. They need some patience and understanding.
It all reminds me of a scene from Shrek where the big green ogre is telling Donkey that ogres are like onions — they have layers. I think I might be a bit like a leek, personally. I have layers too. We all do.
Speaking of layers, this Chicken Leek Stew is all about layers of flavor. You start with the slight sweetness of the carrots and leeks, then you add savory, meaty chicken. Once browned, that’s seasoned with a little salt and pepper (seriously, like the directions say go easy on these seasonings. You can always add more later, but you can never subtract any) along with thyme, smoked paprika and garlic powder. Chicken stock and peas round out the dish, and then it simmers together, allowing the flavors to meld. A little cornstarch combined with more chicken stock for thickening. A little more season, as needed.
Meanwhile, you make some creamy, skin-included mashed potatoes. I used mostly red potatoes for this.
Then it’s ready to serve. Some mashed potatoes on one side of the bowl, stew on the other. Or however you want it to be. Then dig in. A little stew on the fork, a little mashed potatoes … pure heaven. And yes, I meant fork. This is a fork-worthy stew.
It’s a hearty, slightly sweet, aromatic stew. And it’s wonderful.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 bunch leeks, cut into 1-inch pieces, halved and soaked to clean
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 cups chicken stock, plus 1/4, divided
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 cups cubed potatoes
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/3-1/2 cup milk, to taste
- salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cleaned, chopped leeks and the diced carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown. Add the diced chicken and stir to combine. Brown the chicken on all sides.
- Season the chicken and vegetable mixture with salt and pepper, sparingly. You can add more later, but you can never subtract these spices. Then add the dried thyme, smoked paprika and garlic powder. Stir well. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and stir well. Add the peas.
- Cover and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Whisk together the remaining stock and the cornstarch. Drizzle in and stir to combine. Cover and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes, until thickened. Taste and season additionally as desired.
- While the chicken and vegetable mixture is cooking, boil the potatoes to tender. Drain well. Stir in the butter, chopped into pieces, and melt. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add milk, a little at a time, to desired consistency. Season well with salt and pepper. A touch of garlic powder is a nice addition too.
- To serve: Portion the mashed potatoes into four soup bowls (wide bottom bowls). I like to place the potatoes on one side of the bowl. Divide the chicken leek stew into the four bowls as well. Enjoy immediately.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.