Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Back To Basics

Judi: I dare say: you've given me a bit of a Fat Head with your lovely comment about searching out my recipes. Truth-be-told, I've neglected my freezer far too long, and my children have been subsisting almost entirely on the 160 lbs of jonagolds we picked a week and a half ago. They are actually to the point of begging me NOT to serve them apples anymore. Whoops. With Justin's help (I get dopey if I'm out of the kitchen too long) I finally made a meal plan yesterday--with plans to restock the upright built right in! Here's what's on the docket for this week:

Wednesday: my famous Hot & Sour Soup and potstickers (two batches--when it's available I eat this soup three meals a day, and for dessert)
Thursday: Homemade Spaghetti and salad (two batches--each batch makes about 12 servings, so we should get four meals out of this)
Friday: Brittany's Black Bean Soup and homemade cornbread (three batches--another favorite, and one that freezes well)
Saturday: ...taking a break from cooking...we'll have appetizers for dinner....
Sunday: Enchiladas Verdes (four batches; two pans for Sunday and two pans for the freezer)

Whew! When I started making my grocery list, I calculated that I needed 31 cups of chicken stock just for the next five days. 31 cups! I buy plenty of packaged stock, don't get me wrong, but with these numbers, it's worth making my own.

I think that people don't make their own stock anymore because they think it's scary, or time-consuming, but the truth is that it's easy and does most of its own work. Here's what I do:

Buy a whole chicken. Bring it home, unwrap it, rinse it under cold water and pull all the "extras" out of the cavity (I usually just toss these). Now at this point, you can decide whether you want to boil the whole chicken, boil part of the chicken, or roast the chicken. Boiling the whole chicken gives the most flavor, but you won't get to use any of the meat. Boiling part of the chicken gives you more bang for your buck, but it takes a few extra minutes since you have to cut off the breastmeat or whatever else you'd like to save. Roasting the chicken first makes the flavors deeper, and you can use some of the roasted meat before making your stock, but it will make a dark brown broth, which isn't suitable for some recipes that require a clear broth. You can't really make a "wrong choice" here, but it's worth thinking about what your end product will be.

Today I wanted a good clear broth (asian soups don't lend themselves to roasted stock) and the benefit of some of the meat, too. I carved my raw chicken and saved the breastmeat and thighs in a freezer bag to use later this week in the enchiladas. Everything else went in the stockpot. Now chop one onion, one carrot, and one rib of celery into chunky (like 2") pieces and toss those in, too. Add cold water to your pot until it covers all of that goodness by about an inch. Throw in 5 or 6 black peppercorns and a couple of sprigs of fresh parsley (or dried, in a pinch). Now, these are my two secret ingredients: seaweed and a splash of white wine. The wine (or you can use vinegar) in your cold water will work to draw calcium out of the bones--which we get excited about in our house, since we are sort of anti-dairy. And the seaweed adds so many amazing mineral and nutritional properties, but you won't notice the taste in the final product. I keep a small package of Kombu in my cupboard, and add a small piece to the water whenever I make stock. Don't wash it before adding it though, as you'll scrape off the white film--which contains much of the seaweed's nutritional makeup.

That's about it! See, now wasn't that easy? Set your heat a little past medium and check your (uncovered) pot anytime you happen to pass through the kitchen. Don't stir the pot at all, and don't let it come to a rolling boil. Once it really starts to bubble, it will develop a foamy cover on top, which you can skim off gently with a slotted spoon. At that point, go ahead and turn the heat down to medium-lowish and simmer gently, still uncovered, for a few hours while you go about your day. It will be done when two to three hours have passed, and you notice the level of the liquid has dropped about an inch. All the flavor should be gone from your chicken and vegetables. You can try a bit of chicken--if it doesn't taste completely bland and lifeless, keep cooking. You want all that goodness in your stock. Once you determine it's done, go ahead and pour it--through a colander or strainer--into a large bowl and let it cool. Refrigerating the stock overnight will set all the fat on the surface, and you can easily remove it before transferring your stock to the freezer. Just remember to portion it into smaller containers if you don't have plans to use the whole batch at once.

Yum! So economical, and good for the bod, too. I'm sitting here looking at the label of my Pacific Natural Foods Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, and it says: Organic chicken broth (filtered water, organic chicken), organic chicken flavor (organic chicken flavor, sea salt), natural chicken flavor (chicken stock, salt) sea salt, organic evaporated cane juice, organic onion powder, turmeric, organic flavor.

Now, does that make any sense to anyone else out there?

Know what's in my stock? Water, free-range chicken, carrots, celery, onion, black pepper, dried parsley flakes, kombu, vinegar. I like that ingredient list a whole lot better.


judi said...

thank you for the fantastic tip of making my own broth. i never knew that a boiled, raw chicken makes better broth. See, i told you, i learn something new every time I read your blog :) Now- can you tell me how you get your kids to eat Hot and Sour soup? or black bean soup? :)

Amanda said...

(GASP)You.toss.what' AND there's no use for the boiled meat? Oh my. I don't know what to say :o). Don't read my blog that's for sure, I use the boiled meat all the time. Ak, lol. I boil my chicken super low and slow just like you do and put in veggies and fresh herbs from the garden. My meat never comes out dry or tough, not that yours does either, I just don't understand how you could say there's no use for it. I use it for chicken pot pie, enchiladas, all sort of stuff and if I don't plan to use the broth in a couple days, I can it.

Please don't think I'm offended, more joking about this comment than anything else but I do use the meat from a boiled chicken all the time. In fact, where it looks like the broth is the main product from your chicken, it's usually my secondary. I stocked up on Pacific brand free range broths just 2 days ago for the days when I don't have time to make my own. They were on sale...$1.73 a container. They're usually $2.64!

kimberly said...

Ha! Amanda, you are a far better pioneer than I! I used to use the boiled meat but I don't anymore--the stuff that's left in the pot is way too tasteless for me after so many hours. That's why I cut off what I need ahead of time and set it aside. And actually, most of the time I make my stock out of our roast chicken leftovers--in which case we've already used most of the meat for one or two other meals. But once in a while I have a week like this one, where I make it just for the pure-stock-pleasure of it all.

Keep up on the goodness on your blog, I'm not going anywhere :)