Coke is It, Ain’t It?

In food on 01/22/2009 at 1:26 pm

Nothing squeaks more of Americana and trailer-trash cooking to me than Coca-cola chicken, a stew made with the soda. When I was in Florida building houses for Habitat for Humanity, a volunteer gave me the recipe which I scribbled down on a stained piece of yellow legal pad paper. I haven’t cooked it in recent years since I don’t really drink soda anymore. Too sweet. I prefer grapefruit Izze or making my own soda from seltzer and Ikea elderberry syrup. Why trailer trash?

I don’t know, exactly. Somehow resorting to using soda pop as a braising liquid brings up the image of some chain-smoking, house dress-wearing, surly woman with her messy hair in curlers in a trailer parked on Astroturf with three snot-nosed bawling babies tugging at her apron strings. Moreover, I was in redneck central when the wisdom was passed down to me. I had my doubts when I first tried it, but you know, there’s something really clever about using soda. It can break down tough collagen in meat with its acidity, impart terrific artificial  flavor and color, and leave a sugary undertone to the dish to complement the other more savory ingredients.

Today I cooked it in the blazing orange dutch oven we were gifted by the Aunt a couple of years ago. It is a ceramic-glazed cast iron behemoth, and it’s been sitting pretty on top of our cabinet for awhile. The other half got it down last week to reproduce a French roast chicken shortcut method a lá our favorite bow-tie wearing geek, Christopher Kimball. Since then, it’s been weighing down the counter, so I thought I’d give this recipe a shot in it. Dutch ovens are great in that they are slow to heat, but then keep the heat evenly and longer. The usual method for using it is to brown meat and veggies in it, add liquid and stick it in the oven to finish cooking. But since we have an electric oven that takes forever to heat up, I decided just to make this an one-oven operation.


1 whole chicken (chop it up however you like, smaller chunks cook faster. You can also use whatever assortment of pieces, light or dark, since the sauce is flavorful enough to do its magic on any meat. I’m sure this would also work with pork or beef.)

1 liter Coke (you just need enough liquid to cover; today I didn’t have enough Coke since it was a leftover bottle we bought for a friend, so I added some party Budweiser someone left for us. If you do a mix, I’d recommend adding a drizzle of honey, molasses or sugar to cut the bitterness of the brew)

whole garlic head (mash up the cloves)

mirapois of pico de gallo (basically you want to use the ingredients that go into a salsa, you could even just dump a jar of salsa to really get into the redneck mode: jalapeno/hatch chile can, chopped 1 onion, chopped tomato, bunch cilantro, splash lemon juice; Again, I had to improvise today with pizza sauce and El Yucateco. I also threw in a quince compliments of the Union Square Greenmarket lady who gave it to us when I was puking over the fuzzy calcium precipate and the other half was picking at the lint. Isn’t cooking crazy fun?)

Salt & pepper

Caramelize the onion in the pot with olive oil. Add chicken pieces, skin side down, to brown. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover with liquid, and simmer for at least 30 minutes. The longer you cook it, the more complex the flavor develops. You can leave the lid off to let the sauce concentrate down to a nice gravy.

Serve over rice or pasta, or if you’re feeling like both, orzo. Pair this dish with a nice frothy 40 or any leftover Bud.

(All this takes time, to seal in flavor and make them onion sweet, so if you’re a busy lil’ redneck with other very important things to do, you can just throw all the ingredients into the pot, cover and simmer)


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