“Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short. But when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit, and our swelter of heat, we say we have had our day.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Summer is like a dear familiar friend. She spends hours upon hours at my kitchen table, taking pride in the blushing peaches and grassy scent of freshly picked okra. Her knowing gaze falls on the ripe ruby tomatoes, deeply black blackberries and emerald cucumbers. She delights in the pleasures that have come out of my kitchen: a plethora of peach pies, ice-cold strawberry lemonade, and mint-flecked vanilla ice cream. But now, she stands at the back door, sunhat in hand, hugging me goodbye. I watch her leave with no regrets. I can proudly say I have eaten a bushel and a peck of ripe tomatoes, gorged myself on sweet tea, and have consumed more corn and watermelon than I would like to admit. Now, I’m ready for a new season. I’m anxiously waiting Autumn with her amber hues, enchanting leaves, and the scent of cinnamon, which always seems to follow her.
This recipe sweetly embraces the last of these summer days. Fond memories of summer rush through my head as I peel back the thin skin of tomatoes, as I slice through pods of pale jade okra, and plough through a mountain of assorted chilies. The combination of sweet, fiery and fruity chilies make this dish wonderfully refreshing. All of the ingredients mingle and meld together, making this a pot full of the essence of summer. We dig in, relishing the end of the season one last time.
Summer in the South seems endless. I’ve yet to hear anyone complain of a Southern summer being short. But I can say I’ve had my fair share of heat and have been full of summer’s offerings. I’ve had my day.
Serves 6, plus leftovers
Note: This is a comforting dish that warms you up on a chilly autumn night, so make as many batches of this recipe as you can at the end of the summer, label, stash in freezer bags and store in the freezer. Thaw and serve with perfectly steamed rice. It’s a lovely way to hold onto the season just a little while longer!
¾ cup canola oil
4 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups assorted sweet and spicy finely chopped peppers, deseeded (I use a combination of Serrano peppers, red bell pepper, banana pepper, whole cayenne peppers, and habanero peppers.)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon sweet, smoked paprika
4 cups peeled, roughly chopped tomatoes
Handful of okra, cut into ¼-inch rounds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
5 cups chicken broth (or recently boiled water)
4 teaspoons pepper sauce or Tabasco, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper, to taste
Steamed rice, for serving
In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken, seasoning with salt and pepper on each side. Panfry until golden on both sides. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
Add the flour to the oil and cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes until medium brown in color. (It should resemble the color of peanut butter.) Add onion, garlic, peppers, cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika. Cook for 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes, okra, dried oregano, and broth (or water). Add the chicken back to the pot along with the pepper sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer with the lid cockeyed for 45 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally. Remove the chicken thighs from the pot, debone and shred the chicken with two forks. Add the chicken back to the pot. Serve with rice.