The Johnson’s were like the Beverly Hillbillies, with a far less likeable cast. Johnson did have a rag to (modest) riches story. Raised by his widowed mom in a log cabin in Raleigh, North Carolina, he was sent to apprentice at the tailor shop at age ten, robbing him of the chance to attend school. In fact, he was the only person on a Presidential ticket who was virtually illiterate until adulthood (Sarah Palin got so close to being the second). At 18 he moved to Greenville, Tennessee, married, had 5 children, and got into politics. His humble beginnings got him elected to Congress, then into the Governor’s mansion, and on to the Senate. Even though he was a Democrat and an anti-abolitionist, he had not agreed with the South’s secession from the get-go and Lincoln found him to be a suitable Veep for the “National Union Party” ticket during his reelection campaign.
When Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson took office, it became clear just how much everyone didn’t like him. The South thought he was a traitor, the North thought he was a traitor and everyone thought he was a drunk (the third is perhaps the least true of all). Apparently the doctor had given him a dose of whiskey to cure his typhoid tummy before he was sworn in as Vice President and he was tipsy (not in a cute way) and slurring his words throughout the ceremony… not a stellar debut. While in office, a series of arguments over reconstruction efforts led him to be the First President that Congress attempted to impeach. He was saved by one vote.
When it came to entertaining, his daughter Martha picked up the slack as his wife, Eliza, suffered from TB (she did make some appearances at dinner). Martha, was a smart one, and the anchor of the family. She managed expectations by saying “We are plain people from Tennessee called here for a little time by the nation’s calamity and I hope too much will not be expected of us.” Well people expected squirrel stew and good ole Martha outdid herself, earning serious entertaining credibility. She pinched pennies, while updating the décor, overseeing her kitchen, and hosting pretty tasting looking spreads. She was homely and welcoming, traits craved by folks still reeling from the Dark Times. One dinner that is often highlighted was when they entertained the Queen of the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii). The menus were sturdy Southern fare, and President Johnson actually enjoyed eating.
In light of the Johnson’s Carolina lineage and affinity for “simple food” we shant use more than one pot. The one pot meal has inundated our social media newsfeeds and it took me no time to come around to the genius of it all as my apartment has no dishwasher (gasp). Pilau, often called Perlo in the low country of the Carolinas, has the consistency of a jambalaya and is rich in flavor. The addition of the curry (or saffron if you have the cash for it) makes this version a bit bolder and more like its cousin, the Indian chicken biryani pilau. Oh how beautifully unifying food is- no matter where you are in the world there is never a chicken rice dish too far away. Perhaps a chef should be President?
One Pot Chicken Pilau
Adapted from: The Presidents Cookbook
· 4 chicken breasts
· 3 slices bacon, chopped
· Olive oil
· Salt and Pepper
· 1 large onion, cut in rings
· 1 large red pepper, cut in rings
· ½ cup raisins
· ½ cup slivered almonds
· 1 Tbsp saffron (or curry)
· 2 cups rice
· 4 cups chicken Stock
Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a heavy skillet, cook 3 slices of chopped bacon. Once cooked, remove bacon and put on paper towels. Add chicken breast to fat (seasoned with salt and pepper). Brown. When browned, remove and put to side with bacon.
In the same pot over medium heat, add a glug of olive oil. Add the onion, pepper, curry/saffron and cook, until the onion is translucent (7 mins). Add the chicken and broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
Stir in the rice. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through the cooking time. When you stir, add the raisins.
Remove the pot from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Top with parsely and slivered almonds.
· If you are using curry powder, I would omit the bacon and olive oil to brown the chicken instead.
· You can always add more veggies during that stage. Okra and collard greens work wonders.