Mississippi Chicken Is A Zesty Twist On Classic Pot Roast

The Deep South state of Mississippi gets credit for a lot of things, including major cultural contributions like birthing classic Delta blues music. But its culinary scene is a close second, especially for aficionados of down-home country cooking. The no-fuss style seems simplistic, but there's a method to the madness. It once involved cajoling secret family recipes and techniques from someone's granny, but thanks to today's easy internet information, we all get access to dishes like the infamous Mississippi Chicken. 

This lauded Southern meal involves just a handful of ingredients, almost zero stress, and an ever-easy small appliance: the slow cooker. You can bet every home kitchen in the state has one, and they likely still call it a Crock-Pot, which debuted in 1971 as a time-saving device for homemakers and working women. 

Mississippi Chicken is actually an offshoot of another stewy favorite, Mississippi Pot Roast, which got its humble start in the tiny town of Ripley. As the story goes, Robin Chapman remembered a recipe handed down from her aunt, likely handwritten in pre-internet fashion. She made an impromptu alteration in the namesake meat ingredient, unknowingly creating a newcomer in the archives of classic Southern cooking. 

Before long, chefs across the state, and eventually the whole country, were swapping in chicken for beef, resulting in the arguably even more famous Mississippi Chicken. The other tried-and-true ingredients have remained the same, including the one providing its characteristic zesty flavor: peperoncini peppers

What's in that Mississippi Chicken dish

Though slow cooker dishes abound, few are more regionally specific than Mississippi Chicken. It's not because of the ingredients per se — since it involves only five items available in most supermarkets. The magic lies in the simplicity of how those ingredients are assembled and served, and in the beauty of dump-and-leave-it cooking. 

Southern states also lean heavily into peperoncini devotion, which is unsurprising given the region's fondness for spicy foods. Without peperoncini peppers, Mississippi chicken would be just another slow-cooked poultry dish. Peperoncinis can rate up to 500 Heat Units on the Scoville scale, adding mild heat and complexity to any dish, but especially one that slowly cooks for hours. 

Peperoncinis are the last to be added but are first in flavor. Just as Chapman did in her Mississippi kitchen, chefs today lay boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a slow cooker, sprinkle on packets of au jus gravy and ranch dressing mix, top with a stick of butter and a handful of peperoncini peppers, and let it bubble away. Note that the packets contain dry powder, not mixed gravy or dressing –– that's how easy this dish is to make. 

The trick to genuine, traditional Mississippi Chicken is shredding the cooked chicken before serving. That makes it extra adaptable, though many families prefer it simply served over a pile of creamy mashed potatoes or rice. Naturally occurring chicken broth from the simmering pot provides just enough liquid for a warm, spicy, flavorful meal. 

Variations for Mississippi chicken, if you dare

Most true-blue Southern cooks stick to what's worked for years, the original version of Mississippi Chicken. But like any dish that sticks around long enough to be called a classic, variations are bound to emerge. In this case, tweaks to the method are slight and uncomplicated. After all, as they say in the South, ya don't mess with a good thing.  

One acceptable twist on Mississippi Chicken is to use dark meat, which has a gamier taste and typically a lower price at the grocery store. Chicken thighs are a good choice, but they're left whole rather than shredded since they almost always contain bones. Some chefs experiment with chicken legs or even wings –– anything goes, though dark-meat versions generally need less butter if any at all. 

Another variation is to add cooked flat noodles at the end of the cooking process, making Mississippi Chicken even more of a one-dish-wonder. For a jazzier dinner, heat levels rise with spicy versions of the au jus gravy or ranch dressing packets. 

Though a pretty big departure from tradition, it's also possible to make Mississippi Chicken in the oven rather than in a slow cooker, which cuts the time down to less than an hour. That can add texture and crispiness, especially if the peperoncini peppers get a slight char. On the other hand, sliding them underneath the chicken amplifies the flavor and permeates the entire dish.