Friday, October 2, 2009

Tasteful Economy

The smell of a chicken roasting in the oven is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s even better when that 4-pound chicken was less than 4 bucks on sale, and you can get several meals from it.

First, I loosely followed Martha Stewart’s guidelines for roasting a chicken. Her book, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School is a great reference for the home cook. However I used a lot more herbs than she calls for. I snipped about 1/3 cup sage, thyme, basil and rosemary from my herb garden. I placed some of the herbs, lemon slices and garlic in the cavity, and stuffed some under the skin, too. I also rubbed some butter on the outside of the skin.

To make a kind of a rack for the chicken to rest on, I cut some celery stalks in half and put them on the bottom of my cast-iron skillet. And to make this a one-pan meal, I quartered some potatoes and a cipollini onion, and scattered them around the chicken. About an hour later, I had a beautiful roast chicken. (But I do admit when we started carving it, we realized it still needed to cook a little longer. But it wasn’t a big deal — I just put it on a baking sheet and put it back in the oven for a few minutes.) And I made some gravy from the pan drippings. For this meal I used Persephone Farm celery, onion, garlic and potatoes.

After we’d enjoyed our chicken dinner, I wrapped up the chicken carcass and put it in the fridge to use to make stock later. As you’ll soon discover, I really, really hate to waste anything.

The next day for lunch, I shredded up chicken breast to make a chicken salad. I’d had one from Trader Joe’s a while ago that I really had enjoyed; luckily I had the ingredients on hand to recreate it. I added chopped fresh rosemary, light mayo, diced dried apricots and diced Persephone celery to the shredded chicken. The apricots and celery added flavor and crunch and stretched out the chicken. I even had enough left to have as a snack on crackers.

For use No. 3 of this roast chicken, I made chicken stock. Making stock is so easy. And it has so many benefits. 1) You save money. 2) You can control the amount of fat and salt. 3) You don’t waste any parts of the chicken. 4) The taste of homemade stock blows away the canned versions. Again Martha Stewart’s Cooking School is a great reference for stock making.

Also, making stock is a great way to use up vegetables and herbs that might be toward the end of their lifespan. If your carrots or celery are a little limp, they’ll still be tasty additions. You can also use parts of vegetables that you’d normally discard, like the dark green parts of leeks. I’d saved a few such items in my freezer and then threw them in my stockpot.

Here’s what I used in my stock today: 3 carrots, spring onion tops, some leek tops, fennel stalks, 4 stalks of celery, ½ a large onion, 6 cloves of garlic, fresh thyme, fresh sage, fresh chives, fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves, 6 peppercorns, gizzards from the chicken, the chicken carcass, two wings and kosher salt.

I like to add a little olive oil to the pot and brown up the onions, garlic and celery before I add the rest of the ingredients. It just adds more depth of flavor. Once you add the rest of the ingredients, add enough water to cover everything by an inch or so. Then bring it to a boil and skim off any foamy bubbles that appear on top. Then you just lower the heat and let it go at a low simmer for an hour to an hour and a half. You don’t need to do anything to it except skim it if you see more foam. The skimming is important because if don’t do it, you’ll get cloudy stock.

Once I strain out the solids and discard them, I divide the stock between sandwich bags then place them on a cooking sheet and freeze. Once the stock is frozen, I take the bags off the sheet and stack them easily in the freezer. I divide the stock in ½-cup and 1-cup portions, since most recipes call for small portions. The flavor that homemade stock gives to recipes like risotto or soup, or even steamed brown rice is indescribable. I hope you’ll try it soon.

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