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KotW: Roast Poultry, Part Two: Stockmaking November 28, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in Kip of the Week, poultry, soups and stews.
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In these days of chicken nuggets and microwave popcorn, stockmaking is nearly a lost art and — worse yet — sounds as if it deserves to be. The mere idea of taking an awkward, grease-coated poultry carcass, putting it in a pot with cold water, vegetables, and seasonings, and heating it carefully for four to 12 hours sounds so… pre-Civil War. Or at least pre-World War II. But I am here to single-handedly (it sounds so much better than “single-voicedly”) call for a renewed national interest in stockmaking; and I have two reasons you can’t possibly ignore.

1) As I write, good-quality commercial poultry stock costs between $2.50 and four dollars a quart. A large chicken carcass will make two to three quarts of stock, and a turkey carcass will make four to six, which — even after adding in the cost of vegetables, seasonings, and cooking — will go a long way toward reimbursing you for the bird. Argue with free meat!

2) Even without the economic argument, stock that you can make is better than what you can buy, anyway. And if you have fresh or frozen stock, you’re at least halfway to making soup, which is a terrific idea in general.

tools

6- to 8-quart thick-walled pot (not iron) and lid
mesh colander
eight-quart mixing bowl
mesh strainer
slotted spoon

materials

chicken or turkey carcass with skin and shreds of meat, broken into small pieces
reserved pan drippings and bits
juice from platter, if any
1 large onion, peeled and sliced or grated, from cavity or fresh
2-3 carrots, rinsed, topped and sliced or grated (no need to pare)
2-3 stalks of celery, rinsed and sliced thin, with leaves
2 cloves of garlic, skins on, smashed
2 bay leaves

Following the roasting directions I posted earlier will give you a carcass ideally seasoned for stockmaking. Bring 3 to 6 quarts of water (depending on size of carcass) to a boil in the pot, add ingredients and cover. Bring the pot to a boil again, but don’t leave it there; either reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the stock on the top of the stove for four to six hours, or leave it covered in a 225deg oven for 12 to 18 hours. The oven method produces more substantial stock, if it’s practical for you.

The temperature of a stockpot is very important, and should be verified with a meat thermometer if you have any doubt. Less than 170deg — or 180deg to be sure — isn’t safe; more than 205deg will begin bubbling, break up the sediment and sludge that should stay at the bottom of the pot, cloud the stock, make it bitter, and force you to strain it through cheesecloth or fine mesh before you use it. If you keep the temperature well below boiling, the sediment will stay at the bottom and you can pour the clear stock off the top through an ordinary plastic mesh strainer. If your recipe needs better filtration than that, use the plastic mesh strainer and then a fine wire strainer. Beyond that, I refer you to the arduous chemical methods lovingly set forth in classic French cookbooks. Bear in mind that severe filtration will lessen flavor.

Set up a colander in a big steel mixing bowl. Take the stockpot out of the oven or off the heat. With a slotted spoon or something like it, scoop all the solid trash from the stockpot into the colander, and let the stock drip off the trash into the bowl, which should take about half an hour. Discard the trash, rinse the colander, put the colander back in the bowl, and pour the rest of the stock through it; this will take out the last few big pieces. Take out the colander and empty it again. Rinse and wipe out the pot and pour the stock from the bowl, through the strainer, back into the pot.

Refrigerate the stock for 24 to 48 hours, remove the fat, optionally strain the stock one last time, and use it or freeze it in Ziplocs.

© /KC November 2008

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KotW: Hot Carrots November 26, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in appetizers, Kip of the Week, vegetarian.
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[Junk Food Girl is right; there have been two major episodes of culinary slacking in the last month, one provoked by volunteering for the election, and the other made necessary by the priority of untangling the chaos that my finances, etc., had become during the recent political frenzy. Therefore, I’m going to give you two for the price of one, as it were — a holiday appetizer you can make now, and stock-making instructions in time to get the most from the carcass of your turkey.]

Hot Carrots

In the 21st century, you can find “Mexican” cooking in various degrees of fidelity in almost every part of the United States… but it was not always so. In Boston in the early 1970s, all we knew about was Mexico City Mexican food, which mostly meant elaborate plate dinners with tortillas on the side… if any! So my first collision with Mexican food in the manner of a taqueria was as a tourist in San Diego in 1976 — where I also encountered these for the first time. Over the years, they’ve become sparse as a free side dish, which is too bad, since they’re great. Luckily, they’re also ridiculously easy to make.

one pound carrots, preferably four or five big ones
one-half cup pickled jalapeno pepper slices (“nacho slices”) with a little of their juice
one-half medium yellow onion, optional
one-half teaspoon dried oregano
one-half teaspoon dried thyme
two bay leaves
2 cups (about) rice wine vinegar or, lacking that, white vinegar

Set up either a large saucepan of water, or a double-boiler-type covered steamer, and bring it to a boil. Top, tip, and pare the carrots, and roll-cut them into bite-size pieces. If you’re using the onion, skin it and slice it thin. Steam or boil the cut carrots for three to five minutes, depending on how tender you like them — I tend toward the shorter time. Meanwhile, in a nonreactive quart container (a yogurt container is perfect), combine the pickled peppers, the optional onion, oregano, thyme, and bay leaves.

Add the carrots while they’re still hot from cooking, and quickly pour over enough vinegar to cover. Put the lid on the container and refrigerate it at least overnight. As simple vegetarian appetizers go, this is one of the best ever. Happy Thanksgiving!

ETA: I got asked “What’s the best thing to do if you want your hot carrots hotter?” Good point since my batch for Thanksgiving came out not all that hot.

It seems to me this would be a perfect application for Tabasco sauce — either red or green — which is vinegar-based. Don’t go wild, you don’t want to obliterate the flavor of either of the primary ingredients.

© /KC November 2008

KotW: Pan-Roasted Potatoes. November 15, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in Kip of the Week, vegetarian.
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For years I wondered about the best way to cook potatoes to accompany a roast chicken or other roast. Baked potatoes are easy, but bland, and the temptation is to add a lot of calories to fancy them up. Boiled potatoes require an extra burner, and a lot of their flavor ends up in the cooking water. Mashed potatoes are so much work, and so rich, that in my house they’re for holidays only.

But years ago, Junk Food Girl and I were roommates for a while (bet you would never have known!) and she taught me a trick with potatoes, and then I fiddled with that…

Six to 12 flavorful potatoes; I like Yukon golds but you can use Finnish golds, russets, red creamers…
one tablespoon oil
one-half cup cold water
one-half teaspoon Creole seasoning
one-half teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste

Cut potatoes into bite-size pieces; with Yukon golds this usually means cut in half, then each half in quarters. Have a big heavy skillet ready and warming on the stove. Then do one of two things: either toss the potato chunks with the oil and the water and put them in the skillet; or, if you have an oil sprayer, put the potatoes and the water in the skillet, then spray the potatoes generously with oil. Let the skillet heat on the stove just until the water starts boiling — which won’t take long!

Dust the potatoes with the Creole seasoning and pepper, and put the skillet on a rack in the oven, above whatever you’re roasting. If you’re roasting a chicken at 325°, put the potatoes in about half an hour before you turn off the oven, and leave them in for the 20-minute stabilizing period before you remove the chicken. If you’re roasting something that comes straight out of a hot oven, put the potatoes in for the last 25 to 40 minutes depending on temperature.

These potatoes will be assertive and full of flavor, because they barely encounter water, they’re sharply seasoned, and the browning is nice and even. Because they come to the table in a hot skillet, they’re still hot when they’re served, unlike hash browns. And they’re so easy!

(And thank you sarawr, if I didn’t say that already.) /KC

Taking over for Kip: Strawberry-margarita cheesecake. November 13, 2008

Posted by sarawr in 10115157, baking, dessert.
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My goodness! Kip seems to be — dare I say it — slacking! Well, never fear: Junk Food Girl is here, with a delicious bit of baking magic just in time for the holidays! Trust me, this cheesecake needs no more introduction.

YOU WILL NEED:

2 cups crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled
24 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup Triple Sec

WHAT TO DO:

Mix the crushed graham crackers, melted butter and sugar thoroughly then press into the bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan (or the cups of a muffin pan, if you prefer). Bake at 325 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes; set aside.

Purée strawberries in electric blender; process until smooth, scrape down sides to get all the strawberries. Reserve 1/2 cup purée.

Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in 1/2 cup strawberry puree, lime juice, tequila and Triple Sec.

Pour into prepared pan; pour reserved strawberry purée on top in a circle and gently swirl it through the batter with a knife. (If you made muffins instead, fill the cups about 2/3 full, then proceed as directed.)

Bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour and 10 minutes (45 minutes for muffins; test them with a fork or toothpick at about 30 minutes — they should be sticky, with the consistency of really hard Jell-O). Center will be soft. Remove from oven and run knife around edge of pan to release sides. return to oven; turn oven off and leave cheesecake in oven 30 minutes.

Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Remove from pan; cover with plastic wrap (not foil, trust me on this) and chill for 8 hours.

KotW: Roast Chicken, Part One (The Bird Itself) November 1, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in chicken, Kip of the Week, roasts.
2 comments

A roast chicken is one of the most satisfying dishes you can make for dinner — and, if you approach it correctly, economical as well. At this writing, a good-grade, battery-raised, cold-case chicken can cost less than a dollar a pound, and the yield of cooked meat is about 50% of the raw weight, so the meat on your plate and ready to eat is still less than two dollars a pound… a lot less than almost any kind of red meat or, actually, even some vegetable dishes. Furthermore, chicken is really tasty if you cook it correctly.

That’s the good news. The less good news resides in two chronic shortcomings. One: A supermarket chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and shoved in an oven doesn’t taste like much, and a full-flavored free-range or kosher chicken (at least where I live) can cost about $3 a pound. Two: Even with the best will in the world, it’s hard to cook a chicken so the dark meat is completely done and the white meat is still moist.

You can solve both these problems with planning and technique — in other words, by really cooking, not just shoving the bird in a cold oven and turning it on. A lot of the flavor of the finished product will be flavor that you’ve carefully added during preparation. As a bonus, once you’ve used all the meat, the carcass will be ideally seasoned to make stock for soup; in my humble opinion, if you roast a chicken and don’t make stock afterwards, you’ve thrown out half the chicken.

For optimal results you need to consider every element of the process: the oven, the chicken itself, the seasoning, the temperature, and the timing. Let’s start with the oven.

OVEN

A good oven for roasting, like a good oven for baking, necessarily involves more mass than the manufacturers of your oven were disposed to give you. A chicken prepared for roasting is like a loaf of bread — it needs a lot of heat and a persistent temperature. An ordinary sheet-steel oven really gives you neither, especially when you consider that by opening the oven door for more than a second or two, you lose a quarter to a third of the heat that you waited for.

The solution, generally, is to put heavy, dense, heat-resistant objects in the oven and let them heat up too. Personally I have a Hearthkit rock (http://www.hearth-oven.com/) which is expensive up front, but rugged enough to last essentially forever, and which improves just about everything I cook in the oven. But if you’re on a budget, you can put an oven rack in the bottom slot and cover it with re-used quarry tile or firebrick, or you can just put a large saucepan of boiling water in the oven next to the chicken.

CHICKEN

Supermarket chickens are sold in two standard sizes: a “frying chicken,” weighing 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, or a “young chicken,” weighing 5 1/2 to 6 pounds. After a lot of chickens, I happen to think that the larger size has a little more flavor by nature, but this roasting technique is certainly worth doing even for the smaller size.

Remove the chicken from its plastic bag, and discard the absorbent pad under the backbone. From the cavity, remove and reserve the neck, the gizzard and the heart. (Personally, I discard the liver, but if you like chicken liver, refrigerate it immediately until you’re ready to cook it.) Peel the thick pads of fat away from one or both skin flaps at the edges of the cavity, and reserve those too.

Put the chicken in a large steel or glass bowl, dump at least two tablespoons of salt (kosher salt is best, table salt will do,) into the cavity, and fill the bowl with cold water. Leave it undisturbed for at least half an hour. This cleans out the cavity and thaws any lurking frozen sections in the chicken — you want it to be at the same temperature all the way through, or as close as possible.

SEASONING

There’s a bunch of things that you can use as seasoning for the cavity, in any combination you like:

Kosher salt (but go light, there may be salt in one or more of your other seasonings)
ground or crushed black or green pepper
crushed fennel seed or cumin seed
dried red flake pepper
“poultry seasoning” (typically thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, and nutmeg, but may also contain salt)
“Creole seasoning” (typically cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt)
dried or fresh herbs like sage, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, dill, oregano, and/or parsley

PREPARATION

Preheat your oven to 400°. Have ready:

9 x 13 glass baking dish
steel barbecue skewer
one medium or large yellow onion, peeled
three or four cloves of garlic, crushed without peeling
two to three tablespoons of your preferred seasoning mixture

Put the chicken in the baking dish and hold it vertically with the opening at the top. Drop in the crushed cloves of garlic. Pour in the seasoning mixture, and wiggle the chicken to distribute the mixture over the inside of the cavity. Finally, put in the peeled onion. Close the flaps of the cavity over the onion, so that they overlap; run the steel skewer through both cavity flaps and the onion, and out through the hole under the stub of the neck. The steel skewer conducts oven heat into the cavity, and also gives you a handle to remove the chicken from the baking dish when it’s done. Lay the chicken backbone down in the baking dish. In the corners of the dish, put the neck, heart, gizzard, and fat pads.

TEMPERATURE AND TIMING

For a 3 1/2 to 4 pound (“frying”) chicken:

30 minutes at 400°
30 minutes at 325°
20 minutes with the oven turned off and the door closed. This lets the temperature equalize and prevents redness at the bone.

For a 5 1/2 to 6 pound (“young” or “roasting”) chicken:

30 minutes at 400°
one hour and 10 minutes at 325°
20 minutes with the oven turned off and the door closed.

Remove the chicken from the oven. Pick it up by the steel skewer and put it on a platter for carving. Take the baking dish, without disturbing or discarding any of the contents, and refrigerate it. You can slice the onion from the cavity and serve it as a somewhat crunchy vegetable, or keep it for the stockpot.

After dinner, remove any remaining meat from the carcass and refrigerate it in a Ziploc (it makes great chicken salad). Put the bones and skin in the baking dish. This can hold in the refrigerator overnight till you’re ready to make the stock.

Next week: Stock from the carcass.