By Glen Mason
New Journal and Guide
Food and Culture Correspondent
Leah’s Chase’s Chicken Creole is simple, delicious, and easy to prepare with patience.
After watching the dish being shared on the premiere of “The Dooky Chase Kitchen: Leah’s Legacy,” which premiered on WHRO-15 (PBS) last Saturday, it was the excuse needed to pretend one was shopping in the French Quarter buying fresh ingredients for her dish: green peppers, tomatoes, and okra.
Since he was coming to town that night (May 7), I put on some Kirk Whalum. Then I got to work paying homage to a culinary mentor Leah Chase. Looking back, it was an honor to get a few cooking tips from her.
While covering the New Orleans Jazz years ago, a friend wanted to make sure we visited Dookie Chase Restaurant. He told me that besides a shared interest in looking for the best cuisine, Mrs. Chase reminded him of his mother, which motivated the visit even more.
Mrs. Chase, the Queen of Creole Cuisine, was passionate about Creole cooking and African-American art. She and her husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase’s restaurant, was a gathering place during the Civil Rights Movement. and was known as a gallery due to its extensive African-American art collection. Before the pandemic, Food & Wine Magazine named it one of the 40 most important restaurants of the past 50 years.
Creole and Cajun cuisine comes from the people who populated the Gulf and southern Louisiana Bayous. Its mash-up of recipes come from the Gulf’s indigenous people mixed with the descendants of enslaved Africans, their descendants, and the influences of French, Italian, and Hispanic colonizers. Cajun incorporates West African, French, and Spanish cooking techniques into its authentic cuisine.
In short, Creole cuisine uses tomatoes, and Cajun cooking does not. Therefore, the terms “Cajun” and “Creole,” used loosely and interchangeably when describing Louisiana food, are not the same.
The late Mrs. Chase was generous and welcoming to the chef-writer. With her golden brown complexion and beautiful white hair, I saw how she could remind my friend of his mother.
Mrs. Chase thought I was after her chicken recipe. But what I really wanted was the secret to her gumbo. Her secret?
Mrs. Chase said, “make it good.”
Here is the recipe Chef Zoe prepared. Be sure to tune in next week. My editor said I nailed it last week.
My mentor would be proud.
LEAH’S CHICKEN CREOLE
6, 5 oz. boneless and skinless chicken breasts;
1 tbsp. salt;
½ tsp. white pepper;
¼ cup olive oil;
1 cup chopped onions;
½ cup chopped green peppers;
2 cups whole tomatoes;
2 cups chicken stock;
2 cloves garlic (chopped);
½ tsp. ground thyme;
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper;
12 small whole okras;
1 lb. shrimp (peeled and deveined);
1 tbsp. chopped parsley.
1. Season chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and the white pepper.
2. In large skillet heat the vegetable oil. Place seasoned chicken in hot oil, turning it as it cooks. Lower heat. Remove chicken and set aside.
3. Sauté onions in skillet until clear. Add the green peppers; stir and cook. Add whole tomatoes, stir them into onion mixture. Add stock, garlic, thyme, cayenne pepper, and rest of the salt.
4. Cook sauce on high heat for four minutes. Lower heat; return chicken to sauce. Add okra and simmer until okra are just tender.
5. Add shrimp and cook until shrimp are pink. Add parsley.
6. Serve over rice or penne paste.
Yield: 6 servings
Recipe: The Dooky Chase Kitchen; Leah’s Legacy.