Apr. 15, 2015

Spring Interrupted

Things haven’t been going my way lately. I won’t bore you with the minutia of every little thing in my life which has gone array, but let’s just say that I am wondering what planet did I get on the wrong side of??? I will tell you about the blog post that I won’t be sharing with you because my computer ate it. More accurately, I am having a little difficulty mastering a new computer operating system, which lead to my inadvertent eraser of my nearly finished blog post about some of my favorite spring season edibles. I will attempt to re-create the post when I have more mental and physical energy to do the job justice. Which brings me to my current issue-the flu bug got me, and got me good.

I am personally offended that my immune system let me down. Well, I am just being silly saying that but I will say that I give myself every possible advantage I can. Goodness knows I eat well on a regular basis. I take my vitamins and antioxidants, get a flu shot, exercise, etc., etc. The flip side is that I am a human, living in the world with a lot of other humans, and I take care of sick people for a living. I know I am whining a bit and in general, I rarely get sick. This illness did catch me by surprise due to how swiftly it came on and how severe the symptoms. In fact, I am still sick with all the secondary infections that are tagging along. My appetite went to absolute zero.  Plus, I had no energy to make food anyway. That is why I am so glad I keep a time tested “remedy” in my freezer. Of course, that is none other than good old chicken soup.

To be more accurate, I consume the chicken broth. I make a vegetable broth option as well. I don’t know how well studied is the use of chicken soup as a cold remedy. I just know it’s one of the only foods that even appeals to me when I am sick. Maybe it’s because of the heavenly herb-y perfume, which can cut through the dulled senses. Maybe it is the relative “neutrality” of how a basic broth sits in the stomach. I like to think the infusion of beneficial garlic, onion, carrots, celery, ginger, loads of parsley and/or cilantro, that is healing me a cup at a time. Sometimes I kick it up by steeping lemon, lemongrass, or kefir lime leaves as an option. All of this can be accomplished fairly quickly with a pressure cooker. The chicken can be either be a whole, fresh bird or you can accomplish pretty great flavor but cooking down your left over carcass and extra giblets from a previous meal. I typically cook down my day-after chicken or turkey carcasses, then package the broth in vacuum bags for the freezer. If you make up a fresh batch, you also gain a cooked chicken to make another meal, as long as you don't boil your bird to death. Notice that I did not mention any carbohydrates like pasta, rice, or potatoes. If you decide your tummy is ready for something more filling, carbs can easily be added. My recommendation is to cook your choice separately and add the cooked product to your broth. As for your vegetable choices, use what you like with one caveat; stay away from the potentially gaseous offenders. Have your cabbage soup another day and think “neutral and soothing”. Unless you absolutely hate them, carrots and celery are a must. I believe the “magic” is in the aromatics. How strongly flavored the broth will be depends on the amount of aromatics you add and how far you reduce the broth. Don’t forget to keep in mind that both garlic and onion can be gas producing, but I have noticed that if I’m not eating the actual flesh of the allium, it seems to be less of a problem. So let’s go over the three different ways I approach such a project.

For all methods- Prepare your veg

Keep it rustic and keep it simple.

 Onions – peel or don’t peel, just knock off the outside loose papery peels – half or quarter depending on how much room you have in your pot.

Garlic- I usually just smash a big helping of big, fat toes.

Carrots – No need to peel if they are clean. Just trim and either rough chop or break in half – done.

Celery – I use a whole stalk because I love celery. I just make sure it’s really clean and just cut the whole works in half, leaves and all.

Ginger – I just slice slabs and don’t bother to peel. Remember, a lot of ginger may add a little burn.

Lemon – I don’t always add lemon to the stock and sometimes I just squirt some in fresh to the final product just before drinking. That makes for the cleanest taste. But sometimes I go ahead and throw in a washed, seeded lemon half while the broth cooks or grate the rind in to the mix. If I use lemon grass, I just give it a smash with the back of a chef’s knife and toss it in whole. If you are using kefir lime leaves, they can just go in whole. Just be aware that they impart a very distinct flavor.

Herbs – I grow my own herbs so I usually have a great supply of rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and in the summer I have fresh parsley and cilantro. I just make sure they are clean and throw the whole branch-lets in to the pot. I actually go ahead and mince the parsley or cilantro because I like to infuse as much of the goodness as possible. I use a lot of the tender herbs but use your own judgement. If you are using dried herbs, I like poultry seasoning and Italian seasoning (salt free). What I do not use – bullion.

Salt and pepper – I start with a couple of teaspoons of kosher salt and several whole peppercorns. Since sneezing and runny nose are issues, I personally do not like to hit the pepper too hard. You will adjust the seasoning later.

Water – If you are using municipal tap water, filter it if at all possible. Cover the veg and be sure to leave enough room to allow for the displacement of the chicken.

Chicken – Organic, thawed, empty cavity rinsed and warmed to room temperature.

Stock PotMethod

This is actually my favorite way to do this and I believe it makes for a nice succulent chicken that you will save for another use. Bring the veg and water up to a boil then carefully lower the chicken in to the boiling liquid. If you need, add some more water to make sure the bird is covered. Put on a tight lid and return to a full boil. As soon as the pot is once again at a boil, leave the lid on and turn the burner off. Leave it right where it sits and set your timer for an hour. Don’t peak, don’t stir-just let it sit. Once the hour has elapsed, remove the lid and lift up the chicken with meat forks. Caution! It might not be fully cooked yet so don’t start sampling just yet. Pull a leg and thigh away from the carcass and see what color the juice is. If you are still seeing red or pink, hit the heat to a medium and let it continue to stew a bit until the juices are clear. Once you are satisfied the chicken is cooked, move it to a colander over a bowl. Set aside and cover with a clean dishcloth or paper towel, trying not to let the paper stick to the bird. Let that sit and drain for a good 30 minutes. Once your chicken has cooled enough to safely store, move to your desired container, making sure to drain the cavity. If it is completely cool you can wrap it in plastic for an additional layer to protect from drying out. Meanwhile, pour your broth and veg in to a separate colander over a big bowl or another pot. Let this sit and drain for a good 30 minutes, occasionally pressing on your veg with the back of a big spoon. As your broth cools, the fat is going to start separating so you can start skimming. It is also a good time to check the seasoning and add salt as needed. If you are not using the broth right away, store in the fridge overnight with plastic wrap to cover. In the morning it will be congealed and all the fat will be a firm, light yellow film on the top that can be easily skimmed away. The broth will liquefy quickly when heated on the stove top. It is also easier to pack in vacuum seal bags when congealed. I label and lay flat to freeze so I have a nice slim packets that I can stack like records in a bin in my freezer.

 

Pressure Cooker Method

This is an excellent method if you are in a big hurry. The down side is that you have to be a little more on top of it and pay attention to the timing or you may end up with a chicken that is overcooked and mealy.

Place all the veg, herbs, and seasoning on the bottom of the pot and nestle the chicken on top. The biggest difference here is that you will not be filling the pot with water. Please refer to your individual pressure cooker instruction manual for details. Some models will have a maximum fluid fill line. Cooking time and pressures are going to vary depending on your model. You basically have two options here. Once it has cooled and no longer under pressure, proceed the same as the stock pot instructions. Depending on how much liquid your veg will give up, your broth may be strong enough that you can extend it with a little boiling water.

 

Cooking Down a Carcass

This method is a little different. Quite frankly, you could use the pressure cooker but in my opinion, the end result will be a little weak. I start by roasting the carcass and neck in a roasting pan. If there is left- over meat on the bones, take that off first and reserve or it will turn in to shoe leather. Oil the bottom of your roasting pan with your high temp oil of choice, toss in the veg and sprinkle with salt. I add the dryer, woodier herbs but leave the fresher herbs for the pot. Roast the mixture in a hot oven, 400-450 F, checking about every 15 minutes or so. As the bottom of the veg get caramelized, give them a stir and a flip to roast the other side. When the veg is looking caramelized and the carcass looking brown, remove from the oven. Scrape the contents to the stock pot. Season and add any additional veg or herbs that you would like. Fill your pot with fresh water and any other retained gelled juice from the left over chicken. Bring to a low boil and just let that boil away uncovered for as long as it takes to achieve a concentration of flavor that makes you happy.  This method will give you a darker, murkier product which will also have an earthier flavor. Strain when you are done and this will likely have a lot less fat accumulated on top.  It will contain a lot of collagen and this broth will harden to a stiff gel when cold.

 

So there you have it, my steaming mug of relief when I am feeling miserable. Whether it actually improves my symptoms or just takes me back childhood, I don’t really care. It is part of what I like to call “home comfort care”.

Spring still abounds so, when I am feeling spunkier, I will be talking about nettles, rhubarb, morel mushrooms, and whatever else I decide to bring to my kitchen.

Take Care