Romanian Dill Pickle Chicken Stew…”Mancare de Castraveti Murati cu Pui

Romanian Dill Pickle Chicken Stew…”Mancare de Castraveti Murati cu Pui. After making my batch of brined pickles, I realized I’d probably have lots of pickles to snack on for awhile. Maybe more than enough:). My husband suggested I make the Romanian potato salad with some of them. But I still had plenty to use in other dishes. That’s when I  remembered a dish my mom made from time to time when I was little. It was a dish made with pickles of all things:). I loved it even back then as a child. Maybe I liked it because I enjoy all things pickled… pickles though, have always been a favorite. 
The dish my mom made was a tomato based stew with pieces of chicken, sometimes pork, but always with homemade pickles strewn in for flavor. She didn’t make it often, it was more during the fall/winter months when she’d have all sorts of pickled vegetables on hand, including pickles. But it was a dish I never forgot. And recently I remembered it again… after so many years.  I don’t know what it was about the dish, maybe it was the crunch and tanginess of the pickles… or maybe the unexplainable flavor and texture of the pickle that always took me by surprise. The pickles themselves released their flavor into the sauce, so this made the pickles have an interesting mild flavor while retaining their crunchy texture. I say interesting in a good way, it’s just that I can’t describe or compare the dish with another. It’s a dish that has to be made and tried. 
The mild pickle flavor of the dish comes from using homemade naturally fermented brined pickles… pickles made without any vinegar. The dish isn’t overly sour or salty when using the brine version(my version). And while I’ve never used regular store-bought vinegar based pickles for this dish, I would think it would alter the flavor and make for a more acidic dish.  It isn’t to say that it can’t be done, you might need to soak the pickles in water to de-salt and de-vinegarize:) the pickles.  
In any case, I thought it would be nice to share the dish I loved as a child. Something new, since I haven’t shared a Romanian dish in quite some time. I guess it was the perfect opportunity, having just shared the recipe for homemade brined pickles. I’m not sure what part of Romania this dish originated. I just know my mom made it. Interestingly, my husband didn’t grow up with this dish, so it was a new experience for him. He loved it, especially with soft polenta. You can eat the stew over rice or mashed potatoes… even next to some roast potatoes. Crusty bread will do as well.
While this stew might not be for everyone, the adventurous might be willing to try it. It’s definitely a rustic, peasant sort of dish, and it requires only a single pot. One-pot dishes are always nice. As an added bonus it’s a great make-ahead sort of dish that reheats beautifully. It’s also quite healthy and falls under the gluten-free category. While I’ve never made this vegetarian, you can substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock… and instead of the chicken meat, you can use some risotto style rice, adjusting the water and making it more of a rice dish. It’s just a thought. Actually, I’m thinking of trying it myself one day. Hope you enjoy…    
Note: I love cutting the pickles in long spears, but if you prefer, you can cut the pickles in slices. And while I ended up adding salt to this dish, you might want to be careful with the salt especially if the brined pickles being used are on the salty side… mine were minimally salted.

Tip: If you find your sauce too watery, opt to cook down further(without lid), or thicken with a flour slurry. 
You will need:
8 boneless chicken thighs(1.5 lbs)  
3 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp cayenne, optional and to taste
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste, depending on salt level of pickles
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1-2 bay leaves
1 TBS fresh dill, or to taste, chopped
squeeze of lemon juice, to taste
Additional: see underlined link for recipe
1. Cut chicken into 2 inch pieces. Dice onion. Cut pickles in quartered spears… or slices, if you like.
2. Heat oil in a large pot and add diced onion. Cook onion on medium/low heat…until golden, stirring every so often… about 10  minutes or so.
3. Add diced chicken and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until it catches some color. Add the paprika and stir to combine. Continue cooking on medium heat for another 5 minutes or so…. stirring every so often to prevent burning. 
4. Add tomato paste, stir into chicken mixture to combine, cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes.
5. Add chicken stock and water… adjusting water if needed to barely cover chicken.
6. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes, lifting lid and checking to see that nothing is sticking from time to time.  If you feel the sauce is evaporating too much during cooking( it shouldn’t) you may add a bit of hot water. I didn’t need to add any… 
2013 08 19dilledgreenbeans252Cdillpicklechickenstew
7. Lift cover and add pickle spears, bay leaf, cayenne(if using), pepper and salt(using sparingly at this point).
8. Cover and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until sauce has thickened slightly. Adjust seasoning, adding a bit more salt if needed. My pickles weren’t very salty, so I added a touch more salt.
9. Depending how sour your pickles are, you may or may not need to add a squeeze of lemon juice. I needed to add the juice of about 1/3 of a lemon.  
10. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice… or in  my case roasted cubed potatoes one day, and soft polenta another day. You can serve with crusty bread as well.

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