Sometimes the most delicious dishes are the hidden gems found in a particular region or passed down through generations of home cooks, rather than widely popular ones you can get at a restaurant. Although every part of the country has its own specialties, the South in particular is full of culturally rich food traditions with personal histories and specific preparations. Chicken mull is one dish that you likely haven't heard of unless you're from South Carolina, North Carolina or northeastern Georgia.
What is Chicken Mull?
Its name isn't the most inviting, and its ingredient list isn't especially attention-grabbing either. However, chicken mull, like burgoo, Brunswick Stew, and chicken bog, is an iconic Southern dish with a deep history. Chicken mull is a traditional barbecue stew made with slow-simmered chicken. It's usually pale yellow, and along with the chicken contains a rich broth that's been thickened with crushed saltine crackers. Cooks will often add in cream or milk as well and serve with hot sauce, cole slaw, grilled cheese sandwiches and saltines on the side.
This simple comfort food can be found in barbecue joints, along with being a popular choice for big gatherings like community fundraisers and church events. It's especially popular in the fall and winter months when the weather gets a bit chilly. In the Carolinas and northern Georgia where chicken mull is a staple, this time of year is even called "chicken mull." They also use the term "chicken mull" to describe an event where the dish will be eaten.
Where Did Chicken Mull Originate?
Although the exact origins of chicken mull are murky, many believe that it was first made by hunters and farmers who prepared it in a large stockpot over an open flame. Similar to other barbecue stews, the mull was cooked in large iron pots, simmering for hours at a time, and then served to a large group of people.
Certain pockets of the South specialize in this stew, and many cooks think that they're the only one making it. The dish can be found in Athens Georgia and out in the country in eastern North Carolina. The tiny town of Bear Grass, about 20 miles from Greenville, even holds an Annual Chicken Mull Festival.
Although each community might think that chicken mull is special to their town, it's important to note that the dish also goes by the name chicken muddle. Chicken muddle is another regional Southern stew, specially prepared in southeastern Virginia near the border of North Carolina.
Looking into the origins of chicken muddle, one finds that its roots are in "fish muddle," another stew that's been cooked through generations on North Carolina's Outer Banks and on the coast of Virginia. Fish muddles have been made in the South since the 1800s, starting off containing just fish, onion, potatoes and spices. Throughout the 1800s, fish muddle recipes changed and developed, and by the late 1800s, cooks were experimenting with using different kinds of meat.
These experimentations included making turtle mull, squirrel mull, and rabbit mull, but the one that stuck was the chicken mull. The first written mention of chicken mull was in South Carolina's Greenwood Index-Journal in 1923, saying that "it remains for the great state of Georgia to give us chicken mull." Since then, this concoction has remained a main dish of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
What Is The Recipe for Chicken Mull?
Although the recipe depends on the cook, this comforting stew is traditionally prepared by boiling or parboiling a whole chicken in a cream or milk-based broth. Butter, salt, and pepper are often added in for flavor, and some cooks use chicken breasts rather than a whole chicken. Saltine crackers are also a central ingredient, used to thicken the mull.
Depending on the chef's preferences, veggies like diced potatoes or onions can be added. Garlic, crushed red pepper, and hot sauce are often used for flavoring as well. Some chicken mulls are thin and soupy, while others are thick and stew-like, depending on the ingredients and cooking time.
Although chicken mull was traditionally cooked over an open flame, home cooks can make it in a crockpot for a modern, easy version. Here's a chicken mull recipe from Taste of the South to try this Southern staple for yourself!