In the fall of 2011, Panera Bread featured a Sonoma Chicken Stew. It was pricier than their typical soups, but it was served with Dry Jack Cheese Biscuits on top. This stew was very similar to their cream of chicken and wild rice soup, which has been one of my favorites since I was in high school. It is a creamy base with chicken and vegetables, but perhaps my favorite part was these small round carrots. I was completely baffled by them. They were so tasty and has a perfect texture. Each had a marking where a stem would be, so it wasn't just small pieces of carrot that were rolled around to form balls. I did some research and found that they are actually called thumbelina carrots and are sometimes grown in Sonoma, California.
I loved this stew so much that Bob and I often went to Panera while I was pregnant with Ava just to get this stew. Sadly, in the fall of 2012, the stew did not return to the fall menu! I was crushed and knew I had to come up with a way to recreate this stew. My sister Lisa and I set out to do just that. We pulled components from recipes for Chicken & Dumplings, and added in what I remembered being in the Sonoma Chicken Stew. Of course, I couldn't find thumbelina carrots anywhere, so we made do with regular carrots. The stew turned out amazing! Funny thing, shortly after we made the stew, I found "Parisian Carrots" in the freezer section of Trader Joe's- and they are the same little round carrot balls! I stocked up! Sonoma Chicken Stew
Serves 4-6 dinner-sized portions
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1.25 - 1.5 lbs chicken breast, cut into small pieces
3 carrots, peeled and chopped (or thumbelina or Parisian carrots if you can find them!)
1 leek, quartered and sliced thin
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 pound red potatoes, skin-on, diced small
1/2 cup baby peas (or more)
Fresh thyme, several sprigs
1/2 - 2/3 cup heavy cream
1. Melt butter over medium high heat in a large Dutch oven. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken and cook until browned or opaque and cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Remove chicken and keep warm.
2. Add carrots, onion, and leek to the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper and cook until vegetables begin to soften, 4 - 5 minutes. Add flour and cook for 2 minutes.
3. Add chicken broth slowly and bring to a boil.
4. Add potatoes, peas, and thyme, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until cooked through. If stew is getting too thick, cover while continuing to simmer. Add cooked chicken back to the Dutch oven and cook just until warmed.
5. Add heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.