Category Archives: bones

Pho Ga with Cilantro or Anise Stock

The bottom left is the lighter cilantro broth; the upper right has the more heavily-spiced anise & clove broth

If I had to pick just one of the international varieties of chicken soup to eat for the rest of my life, I’d probably pick phở  (pronounced “fuh”). Phở doesn’t always involve chicken; in fact, phở bò, with beef, is probably the most popular version. But phở gà is the one I crave when I’m feeling sick or sad or anxious. I think the reason I like phở better than all the other cure-for-what-ails-you chicken soups out there is its tangy, spicy edge. It has all the familiar comforts of chicken noodle soup plus the sweet heat of charred ginger and bite of lime and freshness of basil and kick from hot chilis and crunch of bean sprouts, all in perfect balance.

I’m sure dissertation stress is probably the main reason I’m on such a chicken stock kick lately. But another part of it is that although stock is time-consuming, it’s not too labor intensive. With just five minutes of work here and ten minutes of work there, I end up with the something that feels like really nourishing homemade food.

Plus, once you’ve got the stock made, phở is an almost-instant meal. All you have to do is soften some rice noodles in hot water and put them in a bowl with some cooked meat (or a substitute) and greens. Heat the stock to a simmer and pour it on top. Garnish with bean sprouts, lime, basil or cilantro, green onions, and as much rooster sauce as you like. If you combine the garnishes into a little salad, you can keep it in the fridge along with separate containers of chopped, cooked meat and greens, and then each serving of phở takes less time to prepare than a bowl of instant ramen.

noodles, chicken, shredded bok choy & a few thin slices of onion

add stock, garnish as desired; voila: pho

Do the prep on a weekend and you can feast on rich, spicy, tangy, steamy phở at a moment’s notice anytime that week. If you make two batches of stock at once, which only takes a tiny bit more effort than making one batch, you can freeze anything you won’t eat immediately in pint jars or 2-cup tupperware containers, which are perfect single-serving sizes for any future phở needs.

Another fun thing you can do if you make two versions of the stock at once is play with the flavor profiles. Last weekend, I made one batch with cilantro and coriander and one with anise, cloves, and cinnamon. Both were great. The cilantro version was grassy and bright, and the anise one had rich, elusive layers of spice. In addition to using a whole chicken for each batch of stock, I also used turkey necks and chicken feet—about a pound  of each in each batch. That dramatically increases the collagen content, so after 8 hours of simmering, it was rich enough to become a solid gel in the refrigerator. 

anise stock, just after adding all the spices

Chicken and Star Anise Jell-O!

If you’re not quite up to making the stock from scratch, you can improve a canned stock or even diluted bouillon by simmering it for an hour or so with a big piece of smashed ginger and the same spices or herbs (anise/cloves/cinnamon or coriander/cilantro).

Pro tip: A friend of mine tells me that Tsingtao is an excellent pairing for pho. Although he was talking about phở bò, the chicken version has same kind of spicy, savory, multi-layered flavor thing going on, which I think would certainly complement a pilsner in that addictive refreshing light beer + spicy food way.

Also, I am totally proud of myself that I refrained from making in any stupid phonetic jokes (okay, groan, but even that’s a homonym not homophone!). Recipe below.

At least it doesnt's start with "Mother" new head asplode text! "PPPPPPHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOO..."

 

Recipe: Phở Gà (adapted from Viet World Kitchen)
(serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • One batch whole chicken stock (either the traditional pho or lighter pho variations) or 3-4 quarts canned stock or bouillon, simmered with ginger and either 2 T. toasted coriander and a bunch of cilantro or 5-7 star anise, a cinnamon stick, and 1 t. whole cloves for an hour
  • 4-5 cups cooked chicken meat
  • 2 lbs rice stick noodles
  • 4 cups baby bok choy, or other greens juiced limes, jalapeno because the market was out of serranos, the rest of the garnishes arleady in the bowl
  • 1 yellow onion

Garnishes:

  • 3 cups mung bean sprouts
  • 2 limes
  • 2 serrano chilis
  • 1 bunch green onions, green part only
  • 1/4 cup basil or cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • rooster sauce (optional)

Method:

1. Slice the onion paper thin and soak in warm water for 10-15 minutes (to take away the bite).

safety glove works better for me than the mandoline guard; I think of it as my kitchen chain-mail

2. Roughly chop the bok choy (I used a mandoline for this, too, to get thin slices of the tough parts & shred the green tops)

3. Juice the limes, dice the chilis, dice the green part of the green onions (reserve the whites for another use or poach gently in the stock and serve with the soup), and roughly chop the basil or cilantro. Combine with the bean sprouts and sesame oil and toss to combine. Alternatively, quarter the limes and put all the garnishes out in separate bowls for people to add as desired.

4. Boil a few cups of water and submerge the rice stick noodles for 15 seconds to a minute—just until softened.

5. Heat 2 cups of stock per serving until it’s steaming and prepare the bowls: place individual portions of noodles, chicken, and bok choy in each bowl. Rinse the onion and add just a few thin slices to each bowl.

6. Pour the steaming stock into the bowl, and garnish with the bean sprout salad and rooster sauce.

steam condensing on the sides of the bowl

Whole Chicken Stock Photo Tutorial

Do you really need a recipe or a photo tutorial for something this simple? Probably not. Simmer some chicken and vegetables and after a while, voila: stock. But I appreciated the images and time guidelines provided by the recipe I used

I usually just use leftover bones to make stock. But last weekend, I wanted to make a big batch of congee, and I wanted a whole chicken’s worth of meat in it. Roasting the bird first just to pull all the meat off and throw the bones in a pot seemed like it couldn’t possibly be the most efficient method. Plus, I kept reading (most recently here) that stock made with raw meat and bones beats the pants off the stuff made from a leftover, cooked carcass. So I decided to try the technique described in this recipe for pho ga.

Basically, you poach a whole chicken in 5 quarts of water for about a half an hour, and then remove most of the meat and reserve it so it doesn’t get over-cooked. The rest of the chicken goes back in the pot and gets simmered long and slow to draw all the flavor out of the bones and whatever vegetables and spices you want to use. Pretty simple, even with a few additional steps like charring some of the vegetables and parboiling the chicken. It takes a long time, but it’s mostly not active time—a good project for a weekend day when you’ll be around the house, but have other things you need to get done (like, for example, a dissertation).

Since I wasn’t looking for that distinctive pho flavor, I used leek tops instead of the cilantro and added a head of garlic, a few carrots, and a small celery heart—going for more of a typical European chicken soup flavor profile. The pho recipe also calls for 3 pounds of chicken neck and back bones, but I didn’t feel like making a special trip to a butcher and figured one whole chicken would provide plenty of flavor. I did crack the largest bones before adding the carcass back to the pot to expose the marrow, and I also added a little vinegar because supposedly that helps leach out the minerals. Trying to make the most out of those bones.

I think you could serve this like a consomme, super hot and poured over some diced vegetables and herbs. The flavor was so robust, I just kind of wanted to drink it.

The result was glorious: stunningly rich, almost like a consommé. Much cleaner-tasting and less cloudy than the stock I usually make. The flavor was heady and slightly sweet from the charred ginger and onion and semi-roasted garlic. Plus, the chicken meat turned out succulent, flavorful, and tender. Just what I was looking for. Click for detailed instructions & photos:

Step 1: Char the onion, ginger, and/or garlic. For traditional pho, this would be done on a grill, and there’s no garlic involved. I used my oven broiler set at 500F. If you have a gas range, you can also char the vegetables by placing them directly on the burners over a medium flame. Peel the onions, but leave the ginger just as it is. If using garlic, wrap the whole head in foil.

For the broiler method: quarter the onions and place all the aromatic vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet 1-2” from the heat. Cook for 10-15 minutes, turning every 3-5 minutes until they’re just beginning to soften and some of the edges are blistered and black. If using a fennel bulb, give it the same treatment.

On the grill, you can leave the onions whole; I quartered them so they'd fit under the broiler

I pulled off the darkest blisters, but leaving some of the charred bits will add to the flavor of the stock

Broil (or grill) the aromatic vegetables until they look like this:

The onions don't need to be cooked through, but just that little bit of softness and caramelization enhances the flavor a lot If the flat side of the knife doesn't work, the base of the handle should Flat side of a knife works great for this Peel and crush the ginger and garlic, if using

Step 2: Parboil the chicken. This step is supposed to “remove impurities” that cloud the broth. First, you remove the chicken wings—the bones will pop out if you twist them back, and then you can just cut through the flesh. Then put the chicken, wings, and any other bones you’re using in a pot and add just enough water to cover them. Bring it to a boil over high heat and boil for 2-3 minutes. Then, dump it all out into the sink, rinse the chicken parts, and give the pot a quick scrub to remove any residue.

give the wing a hard twist and the bone should separate from the socket and pop through the skin

then you can just slice through the skin and flesh with a sharp knife; no cleaver requiredRemove the wings

I guess this is the stuff that normally clouds my stock? Who knew you could get rid of it with 2-3 minutes of boiling and a quick rinse

scrub all that residue out of the pot

Boil for 2-3 minutes and then rinse

If you don’t care about “impurities” or cloudiness, you can skip this step, but you might want to add 10 minutes or so to the chicken cooking time. Parboiling isn’t as effective at clarifying stock as a consommé "raft”, but it does get rid of some of the scummy particles. Instructions below for how to turn this stock into a true consommé.

Step 3: Poach the chicken with the vegetables. Return the chicken and wings to the pot, and add 5 quarts of cold water, 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, the charred onions and any other vegetables you’re using. Add any other spices and herbs at this point too—peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander seed, cilantro, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, carrot greens, leek tops, etc. Bring to a simmer, not a full boil (turn the heat down if it’s bubbling too vigorously) and cook for 25 minutes.

This recipe fills my 8 qt pot about to its maximum capacity; I'll probably use the 12 qt pot next time

a gentle simmer means small bubbles like these, not big or constant bubbling

Simmer the chicken and vegetables

Step 4: Remove the meat. Take the chicken out of the pot and let it rest on a cutting board for 20-25 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Keep the vegetables simmering. When the chicken is cool, cut the breast meat off and remove the legs from the body. If you pull the thigh & drumstick together, they should separate from the body pretty easily, and you should be able to slice through any connective skin & tissue easily with a normal chef’s knife, just like with the wings. Pull the leg meat off in large pieces, and cover all the meat and refrigerate it until you want to use it (keeping it in larger pieces preserves the moistness). Cut the leg bones in half with a cleaver or score them with a knife you don’t care about and snap them to expose the marrow. Return the bones to the pot and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar or a hefty glug of white wine (~4 oz).

I threw the skin back in the pot so all the fat would render out and I could scrape it off the top to use for cooking

Remove the breast and leg meat

Don't do this with a good knife, unless you have a good cleaver designed to cut bones. If you don't have a cleaver, use a knife you don't care about to score the bones and make them easier to snap in two

whole chicken stock 032

Break the large bones to expose the marrow

Step 5: Simmer the bones. Cover the pot and cook for 3-8 hours. Some people claim that 3 hours is sufficient to get most of the flavor out of the bones, but it takes at least 6 hours to get all the collagen out. For some people, that’s the difference between “broth” and “stock”: the latter is richer because it contains more gelatin, so much so that it may set like Jell-O when chilled if you use enough bones. If you want that kind of richness, you will need the extra bones called for in the pho recipe—use a large package of wings if you can’t get your hands on chicken necks and backs.At the start, pale gold After six hours, much richer. Even though I kept it covered, it still reduced significantly. If the liquid ever gets too low to cover the carcass and vegetables, add enough water to cover

 Cover and simmer for 3-8 hours

Step 6: Strain, chill, and skim. I remove the large bones and vegetable chunks to a colander suspended over a bowl, and then return the liquid that drains into the bowl to the pot while I line the colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Then, I strain all the liquid through the cheesecloth and gather the ends together and squeeze it as dry as possible with a pair of kitchen tongs, kind of like a giant bag of chicken tea. Let the stock sit on the counter for at least 2 hours or up to overnight—if you refrigerate it immediately, it may heat up the interior of your refrigerator too much. I’m sure people who are fussy about food safety will blanche at the idea of leaving it out for 8+ hours, but I do it routinely without anyone ever getting sick. If you’re concerned or need it to be cool faster, immerse the bowl or pot in a sink full of cold water until barely warm to the touch.

Tongs or a slotted spoon are good for removing most of the large solids

You could probably also use paper towel, although it might break and

 Strain out the large parts in a colander, return collected liquid to pot,
then strain all the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth

This was more like 2.5 quarts because it reduced, but it was super flavorful and could be watered down to 3-4 quarts easily

I soaked some dried mushrooms in the stock while it was hot, and they probably absorbed some of the fat too; normally there would be more. Still, if you want to have a covering of fat to preserve it for longer fridge storage, put it in a jar or something with a narrow top.

 The fat will float to the surface, and solidify when chilled.

Some people claim you should use stock within 3 days or freeze it; other people claim that you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 months. If doing the latter, it supposedly helps to leave the layer of fat on top to “seal” it and prevent spoilage. You can leave the fat in the stock if you like; however, it may make simple recipes like brothy soups taste greasy. Once chilled, the fat will solidify and can be skimmed off easily with a slotted spoon. In recipes that include emulsifiers or stabilizers like egg yolk or starch, the fat should incorporate easily and add richness without an oily mouth-feel. You can also cook with the fat—I skimmed it off and used it to sweat the mirepoix for my congee.

Bonus: In addition to 2.5-4 quarts of stock, this method yields 4-5 cups of perfectly-cooked chicken.

I know you can't tell how moist and succulent this meat was, but seriously: with a little salt, this was good enough to devour on its own. It would not be out of place in any soup, salad, omelet, etc. Or just douse it in buffalo sauce and go to town.

Recipe: Whole Chicken Stock (adapted from Viet World Kitchen)
makes 2.5-4 quarts stock plus 4-5 cups of cooked chicken meat

Essentials:

  • One whole chicken, ~4 lbs
  • 5 quarts water, plus more for par-boiling the bird
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice or 4-6 ounces white wine or dry vermouth (Noilly Prat preferred to avoid a peculiar aftertaste)a few big carrots or celery ribs would probably be sufficient

Optional stuff I used in this batch:

  • 1 head garlic
  • fresh ginger, about 4”
  • 4 carrots
  • a small celery heart (about 2 cups roughly chopped, with leaves)
  • green tops from 3 leeks

Other optional additions:

  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • a few sprigs of parsley, thyme, rosemary, dill, or tarragon
  • a large handful of sage, parsley, or cilantro
  • a bulb of fennel, also better lightly-charred
  • a few shallots or green onions, charred or not
  • a tablespoon of any kind of whole spice you want, toasted in a dry skillet if desired

Variations/Serving Ideas:

For traditional pho: use the ginger but none of the other optional vegetables for the stock, and add 4-5 star anise, a half a dozen cloves, a cinnamon stick, about 1 oz raw cane sugar, and 1/4 cup fish sauce. Skim the fat. To serve, place the following in large bowls: a handful of rice stick noodles that have been softened by a quick dunk in hot tap water, 2-3 tablespoons very thinly-sliced onions, a few ounces of meat or tofu (like shredded cooked chicken or thinly-sliced raw beef). Cover with steaming hot broth just before serving, or serve in small pitchers or jars and let people pour it into the bowls themselves at the table. Garnish with mung bean sprouts, thai basil leaves, lime wedges, and thinly sliced serrano chilis.

For lighter pho: use the ginger but none of the other optional vegetables for the stock, and add a large bunch of cilantro, 2 tablespoons toasted coriander seed, 1 oz raw cane sugar, and 1/4 cup fish sauce. Serve just like the traditional pho, with more cilantro to garnish. This lighter broth is more often served with chicken than beef.

For consommé: use the carrots and celery, but no ginger or garlic in the stock. Chill completely and skim off the fat. Dice 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk and half an onion or a whole leek and combine with 1 cup tomato puree, 3 lightly-beaten egg whites, and 1 lb. raw ground chicken meat (the extra meat enriches the stock and replaces some of the flavor you’re “clarifying” out). Put the broth in a large pot and spoon the mixture into it (still cool), and place over medium heat. Stir until it comes to a simmer. The solids will rise to the surface and begin to form a solid “raft” held together by the egg whites. Stop stirring and simmer for 30-45 minutes, letting the stock bubble up through the raft. Remove from the heat and gently remove the raft—in one piece if possible. Strain the stock through several layers of cheesecloth to remove any remaining egg white particles. The resulting liquid should be as clear as glass. Serve as a starter or between courses in a fancy plated meal, garnished simply with julienned fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, or a delicate, poached meat. Similar to pho broth, you can serve consommé in little pitchers or covered pots or jars to keep it hot and let people pour it themselves into a bowl filled with vegetables, meat, herbs, noodles or other garnishes at the table.

Food, Inc. Part I: No Bones in the Supermarket

the hopeful-looking sky is dawning behind the u.s. capitol building? really?

I procrastinated mightily about seeing Food, Inc., the 2009 Academy Award-nominated documentary by Robert Kenner. I expected it to be, at best, a rehash of Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food and The Future of Food and King Corn and Food Fight. And I’m like a part-time, self-hating member of the choir that all those books and films are preaching to: I am part of the flock of the food reform faithful, but instead of inspiring me to sing Hallelujah, most of the preaching about it just makes me sort of itchy. Still, I felt like I should see the film, especially after it was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, and a couple of weeks ago, a golden opportunity presented itself in the form of a free showing at the UM School of Social Work followed by a panel discussion and (vegetarian) dinner.

First, two caveats: 1) it’s probably impossible to tackle the industrial food production and distribution systems in with 100% accuracy or examine the all the relevant causes and consequences of both those systems and the many proposals for reform in a 90-min documentary and 2) lots of people are praising Food, Inc. for raising awareness or calling attention to the problems in the food industry, and to whatever extent that it has done that, I applaud it.

But that doesn’t excuse the un-attributed voice-overs, the slew of un-cited and un-interrogated “facts,” the manipulative soundtrack choices, or the excess of dopey graphics. The list of suggestions at the end of the film for viewers who have been convinced that Something Needs To Be Done drives me so Bats it’s going to have to be a separate entry (I know I keep starting series I can never finish…there’s always too much to say, too little time to say it). But of course, it’s not at all surprising that I’d take issue with the “solution” when I disagree so profoundly with the way they’ve framed and portrayed the “problem.”

The Claim: In the meat aisle, there are no bones anymore

Well, for one, that’s demonstrably false.

 the wings, whole chickens and turkeys, ribs, many of the lamb and pork chops, and some cuts of beef also contain bones. the ascendance of the skinless, boneless chicken breast has everything to do with fat-phobia and convenience, not moral qualms inspired by bones. image from http://www.kosherclub.com/item.asp?itemid=87&catid=9 many grocery stores actually sell bones without meat, often packaged as "soup bones" which are usually super cheap; the smoked neck bones are excellent in chili

Moreover, the principle the documentary seems to be getting at—that Americans only eat the way they do because they are systematically and deliberately distanced from the reality of food production, and particularly the treatment of the animals they eat—is highly questionable. Pollan makes the same claim in Omnivore’s:

Sometimes I think that all it would take to clarify our feelings about eating meat, and in the process begin to redeem animal agriculture, would be to simply pass a law requiring all the sheet-metal walls of all the CAFOs, and even the concrete walls of the slaughterhouses, to be replaced with glass. If there’s any new right we need to establish, maybe this is the one: the right, I mean, to look.

It may actually be Pollan’s voice that tells you there are no bones in supermarkets. Throughout the film, and particularly at critical framing moments (i.e., the opening sequence, the introduction and conclusion of each segment), Food, Inc., uses the voices of select interviewees as voiceovers without making it clear who’s speaking. That effectively turns them into omniscient narrators and denies the audience the opportunity to consider their credentials and biases and evaluate their pronouncements accordingly.

Pollan runs with this idea of “the glass abattoir,” turning a vague speculation about the importance of looking into one of the central battle cries of the “food revolution.” But the assumption that looking would necessarily change the system is based on the same error many religious evangelists make—the assumption that if someone disagrees with you, it’s not because your belief is silly or lacks firm grounding in observable facts, but because they simply haven’t been enlightened. Pollan et al posit that if people really had to reckon with the fact that their food came from creatures who experience pain and misery as a result of industrial-scale agriculture, they would stop eating meat or at least seriously re-consider whether their personal enjoyment of meat outweighs the moral costs. Factor in the social and environmental and nutritional costs, and no ethical person would ever eat industrially-produced bacon again, right?

Of course that, too, is demonstrably false. There are plenty of farmers and slaughterhouse workers, people who’ve read Fast Food Nation and seen videos of downer cattle and the killing floor, and lots of other people who have reckoned or may be engaged in a long, personal process of reckoning with the complicated ethics of animal agriculture who continue to eat industrially-produced meat. And unless you’re willing to declare them all ethically bankrupt or eternally damned food sinners, you have to accept the possibility that they may have valid reasons for doing so—even if you disagree with those reasons.

Some people see CAFOs and corn subsidies as the means of producing highly desirable animal protein with minimal labor and space and perhaps some unfortunate side effects that we can try to deal with without dismantling the whole system. Others see even Polyface Farms, which both Omnivore’s and Food, Inc. portray as a sort of livestock paradise, as another Treblinka.

Looking, or simply becoming aware of how food is produced doesn’t guarantee any particular response, and it’s extraordinarily patronizing to assume that people who disagree with you are simply ignorant. 

Okay, in an attempt to keep these entries shorter and more digestible, I’ll end there. Still to come in this series—an examination of the documentary’s claims that “the food has become much more dangerous,” that $1.29 broccoli is too expensive, and that fast food is cheaper than cooking. Also, a glorious example of the unintended consequences of corn-phobia, or The Myth of the Grass-Fed Pig, courtesy of Emeritus Professor of Social Work Brett Seabury, who was one of the speaker/moderators in the conversation after the film showing. And of course, why the suggestions at the end of the film make me crazy.