ROMANIAN CREAMED CHICKEN (CIULAMA DE PUI)
Romanian Creamed Chicken (Ciulama de pui)
What makes grandma's creamed chicken so special? I wish I knew! It's essentially a chicken fricassee, common in many cultures. And yet when grandma pulled her big roaster brimming with this creamed chicken from the oven, I remember people scurrying to table, undoing the top button of their pants as a preventative measure against the inevitable belly-stuffing that lay ahead. That's the power, I suppose, of simple comfort food shared with those we love. Some prep notes: Toss the chicken neck and gizzards into the pot during cooking; they'll impart some great flavor, and there always seems to be at least one person in a family who considers these items tasty prizes. If there isn't one of those people in your family, fish them out before serving (not a chance in the Mihoren family; there will be several people fighting over these bits). In the old country, smetana, a soured heavy cream, would have given this dish extra depth, but it's just as nice with the conventional dairy called for in the recipe below (I can imagine, though, that using creme fraiche would mimic the smetana effect). A few words of advice on consumption: First, get in there early and get yourself a leg. The legs go fast and they're the perfect excuse for picking up your dinner and getting to lick creamy gravy off your fingers. Second, always ~ and I mean always ~ reserve at least a ladle's worth of gravy for the end to mop up with some bread. Finally, creamed chicken is traditionally served with mamaliga, the Romanian take on the cornmeal porridge better known as polenta. The quantity is easily increased to serve many (grandma used to feed it to hundreds at church dinners).