Cream stew (クリームシチュー) is a classic Japanese dish that almost seems ironic as all of the components are distinctly western. It's been a staple in a Japanese home for centuries, so I figured I'd do some digging around to see where it all came from. During the Meiji period (1868-1912) when Japan finally opened its doors to the world, the braising of meats and poultries was introduced. Potatoes, carrots, and other western produce were brought over and grown in subsequent decades. After WWII, powdered milk brought over by US troops were encouraged for children to develop strong bones. The dissolved powdered milk was thickened with a roux to be more palatable and mixed with meat and vegetables. The cream stew was born and became a staple in school lunchrooms (The Japan Times has covered the history in further detail if you're interested).
If you love macaroni and cheese, lasagna, or any dish that relies heavily on béchamel sauce (a French mother sauce made from milk and roux), this recipe is for you. By browning the chicken and using the fond to fortify the chicken stock and adding a few extra ingredients at the end, I've enhanced a classic dish for a more adult palate.
Start off by heating your pot on medium high heat and coating with a thin layer of oil. Brown seasoned chicken on both sides and reserve (I used skin on boneless chicken thighs cut to bite size pieces but feel free to use whatever cut you want). It may take a couple batches to brown all the chicken. Make sure not to crowd the pot or you'll be steaming your chicken. The caramelization on the bottom of the pan is the key to a flavorful cream stew.
Sauté the vegetables (here I use carrots, potatoes, celery, and onion) lightly and add chicken stock to simmer for 8 minutes. Add the chicken back into the pot with the milk and simmer for another 5 minutes. Make sure not to boil the stew once the milk is in.
Make your roux separately by mixing the room temperature butter and flour well until it forms a paste. In order to incorporate the roux into the soup, temper it by adding a ladle of the hot soup into the bowl and mixing until the paste has dissolved completely. Repeat for another 2 ladle fulls. At this point, the roux should be thinned out and hot enough that it can be added directly to the pot.
Simmer for another 8 minutes on low heat (boiling will break your béchamel) and gently stir once in a while until the soup has thickened. Season with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper.
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