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WND – Curse of the Liquid Gold

April 2, 2009

chopped-sage

Dinner this week is the result of a series of events, some of which were in fact unfortunate, but most of which were just ordinary.  No fourth cousins three times removed, or even third cousins four times removed attempted to follow me in strange disguises and steal my fortune*, but I did discover something worrying in my freezer.  Or rather, I discovered a worrying lack of something in my freezer. 

It all started with an awkward amount of butternut squash in my fridge that needed to be eaten.  There wasn’t enough to roast or mash, but there was enough that if I bought another squash, even a small one, I would again be left with an awkward amount thus creating a vicious circle of squash leftovers.  So, I went looking on epicurious for something to do with squash and came across a recipe for a Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto.

risotto

I thought I had all the ingredients for risotto – Arborio rice, butter, squash, Parmesan, onions – only to discover to my horror that my freezer was devoid of chicken stock.  I made the risotto, which was so amazing that I had to make it again immediately to share with other people, but I had to buy chicken stock to do it.  My shame was deep and black, and I knew that the only way that I would be able to redeem myself would be to have roasted chicken for Dinner this week and make chicken stock on the weekend.

If you have a picked over chicken carcass on your hands there is no excuse not to make chicken stock.  This isn’t to say, mind you, that I don’t have bouillon cubes in my pantry for emergencies, and that I haven’t bought chicken stock from the store on more than one occasion (and if you’re going to buy your chicken stock I recommend the cartons rather than the cans, and the low sodium version because the regular is too salty), but just homemade stock is so much better and I hadn’t realized that I’d used up the last of my stash.

There are many recipes which might frighten you away from the idea of making your own chicken stock.  You should pay them absolutely no mind.  Making chicken stock is ridiculously easy, and once it’s done you can indulge in a little smugness about the rich liquid gold that’s resting in your freezer.  There are a lot of recipes that call for strange ingredients, or complicated procedures, and while they aren’t wrong per se I do think they’re needlessly complicated if you aren’t cooking in a professional kitchen or planning on making aspic (and if you are, really why?).

Many recipes call for you to add a veal shank to your pot, because the gelatin given off by boiling the bone will help the finished stock gel.  In my experience chicken stock will gel just fine on its own and unless you’re trying to make aspic you don’t need it to gel all that much anyway.  Some recipes call for very precise amounts of vegetables you may or may not have on hand.  I throw in whatever I have in the refrigerator and call it done, I’m not that picky.  Some people [cough Alton Brown cough] call for you to slowly chill the stock in a sterile environment to be sure that it doesn’t develop microbes, or salmonella or something.  This will involve a cooler, a cooling pad, a thermometer and several other things I don’t own and would have nowhere to put even if I did.  I cool mine in a pot on my stove and then transfer it to the fridge overnight.  I haven’t killed anyone yet.  This is cavalier, but also true.  Some recipes will suggest that you clarify your chicken stock with egg whites.  While it’s fascinating that this works, unless you’re planning on making your stock into consommé and serving it at a formal dinner party in a Jane Austen novel you can probably skip this step.

For those of us who aren’t planning on inviting a food inspector by to check up on our home kitchens, and who aren’t planning a dinner party the likes of which haven’t been seen since Victoria was on the throne, making chicken stock is actually really easy.  It requires that you’re at home for several hours one afternoon, but you only have to spend about 20 minutes of that in the kitchen.  The rest of the time you can read, surf the internet, watch TV, do whatever, while basking in the fabulous smell emanating from your kitchen.

After you’ve roasted and eaten your chicken and picked over the meat to make leftover turkey sandwiches and turkey tetrazzini, you’re ready to make chicken stock.  Break the chicken up into pieces that will fit in a large pot.  Add some combination of onions (peeled and cut into halves or quarters), celery (a rib or two), carrots (don’t bother to peel them), a handful of peppercorns, salt, thyme (dried or fresh), a bay leaf, garlic (peeled, but not chopped), and ginger (entirely optional, but I’m very fond of it).  Add 10-16 cups water (depending on the size of your pot and the size of your chicken, I use about 12 cups for a 7lb chicken) cover and bring to a boil.  When it’s reached a boil, uncover slightly and reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-4 hours.  Taste to see if it tastes like chicken stock yet – if not, let it cook a while longer – add more salt if necessary.

When it tastes like chicken stock, turn off the heat and remove the solids – pouring it through a colander or a sieve is a fast and easy way to do this.  If you left enough meat on the bones and you want to make chicken soup, pull the meat and reserve for later use.  Otherwise, wait until the solids cool enough that they won’t melt your garbage bag and then discard.  Leave the chicken stock on your stove or counter until it’s cooled and then put in the fridge overnight.  When you come back the next day it should have gelled slightly and the fat will have risen to the top.  You can be good and skim the fat before you freeze the stock, or you can live dangerously and freeze the fat along with the stock.  Or you can split the difference and skim the fat, but keep it in the fridge to roast potatoes**.  Freeze the chicken stock in 1-2 cup increments, and defrost as necessary.

* courtesy of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events”.

** A friend and I once tried to figure out how to make a kosher chicken pot pie – use chicken fat in place of butter, and don’t add any cream to your sauce – and another friend who was listening in on the conversation objected, asking, “but who keeps chicken fat in their fridge?”  We both turned with identically bemused expressions to reply, “who doesn’t keep chicken fat in their fridge?”  Although, in my case I tend to save bacon fat and freeze the chicken fat with the stock.

Roasted Chicken
Butternut Squash Risotto
Green beans
Salad

Roasted Chicken

Recipe previously given:  Macaroni & Cheese

Butternut Squash Risotto
(serves 6-8 as a side dish; 3-4 as a main course)

1 large butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Olive oil

6-8 cups (about) chicken or vegetable stock

1 large onion, diced
2 cups arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
1-2 Tbsp butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (depending on taste)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place squash on large rimmed baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper and toss with enough olive oil to coat.  Roast until tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.

cooked-squash

Bring stock to a simmer in heavy large saucepan. Reduce heat to very low; cover and keep stock warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in another heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.

Add rice; stir 1 minute.  Add wine and simmer until absorbed, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.

raw-rice

Add half of the hot stock; simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add remaining stock ½ cup at a time, allowing stock to be absorbed before adding more and stirring frequently, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, about 25 minutes longer.

Add the butter, sage  and parmesan cheese and stir to combine.  Add a final ½ cup of stock and the roasted squash and allow to cook until the squash is heated through and the stock has been absorbed.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Notes:    If you’re using homemade chicken stock, I’d recommend a ratio of 2/3 stock to 1/3 water or the flavor of the stock will overpower the rest of the ingredients.  Homemade chicken stock tends to be more concentrated than what you buy in the supermarket.

Green Beans
Really, just because I have a picture.

green-bean-tops-tails1

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