Category Archives: chicken

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.

A Cure for Whatever Ails You: Chicken and Rice Porridge (aka Congee, aka Jook)

This is not really a traditional congee, which wouldn't have a mirepoix base. It's more like a cross between congee and a Euro-American chicken soup.

And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him.
The lore has not died out of the world, and you will
still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness 
and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.
                              —East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Grandmothers of the World Unite

I’ve always been intrigued by parallels in culinary traditions from far-removed places. For example, almost every cuisine seems to include some kind of dough filled with seasoned meat or vegetables—gyoza, pierogi, samosas, wontons, empanadas, bao, knishes, ravioli, pasties, shishbarak, and manti are all just variations on the same basic theme. Ditto for griddled batter-based breads, i.e. pancakes—there are Euro-American flapjacks, French crepes, Italian farinata, Indian dosas, Eastern European blintzes, Ethiopian injera, Chinese moo shu wrappers, Korean jeon, etc. Commonalities like those seem to point to universal imperatives or desires that form a sort of core or essence of the uniquely human act of cooking, like, for instance, the reliance of large, settled populations on grains and starchy vegetables as their dietary staples.

this soup wants you to feel betterChicken broth-based soup is another one of those near-universal foods, and what makes it unique is that not only is the soup itself basically the same wherever you go, but its use as a folk remedy is also seemingly universal. All over the world, whenever people are feeling under the weather, tradition dictates that the best thing to feed them is rice or pasta or potato simmered until very soft in a broth made from chicken bones, often flavored with some kind of alliums and aromatic herbs.

In Greece, it goes by the name avgolemno, for the egg and lemon that are traditionally included, and it’s prescribed as a remedy for colds and hangovers. In Korea, a chicken broth soup including ginger, ginseng, and rice called samgyetang is not just supposed to cure minor illnesses, but also to prevent them—a bit like the American “apple a day.” Chicken soup, often prepared with matzoh balls, is so often prescribed as a cure in Jewish families that it’s been referred to as “the Jewish penicillin.”

And soup’s reputation for healing and restorative powers may be best represented by its metaphorical invocation in the title of the bestselling series of collected “inspirational” writings whose many iterations also serve as a catalog of demographics that marketers see as “easy prey”:

1) Women

  there is no "grandpa's" version nor is there a new dad's version no love for christian menI wholly expected this to be targeted at black women, but the cover definitely suggests otherwiseNourish your "soul" while you starve your body!

2) People who identify as “animal lovers”:

it occurs to me that there may be an entire small industry devoted to feline glamour shotsI have never seen a dog wearing clothes look this happy IRL  Way to improve all of these titles #1: replace any of the nouns with "FERRETS!" i.e. "101 stories about life, love, and FERRETS!"   Way to improve all of these titles #2: add "(not like that, you pervert)" wherever "love" or "loving" appears, i.e. "Loving Our Dogs (not like that, you pervert)" FERRET! Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul (not like that, you pervert): Inspirational Stories About Horses and the People Who Love Them (not like that, you pervert).

3) People who are especially enthused about capitalism & mass entertainment, or captive audiences:

Chicken soup for those who have no souls? This confuses me a little, because isn't shopping the chicken soup for the FERRET!...shopper's soul? I think this makes the same fundamental error as the BWW commericals based on the idea that someone might just be a fan of sports, rather than the fan of a particular team, and thus have a very specific rooting interest that has nothing to do with the game going into overtime just so they can stay at BWW longer and everything to do with their team winning the damn game. I hope this has an excerpt by William Hung. Hell, I hope the whole thing is by William HungAccording to Amazon, this is the 5th most popular title in the series and #13,101 for all books

I think animal lovers win the “Biggest Sucker” prize because of the amazing co-branding that brings us Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul Cat Food and Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul Dog Food. 

I don't know if this makes me feel cynical or delighted ...or if my delight is inherently cynical anyway.

Chicken Soup Science

However, as the global omnipresence of the chicken soup-as-remedy suggests, it’s not just an old wives’ tale co-opted by the self-help industry. Clear broths may actually be one of the best ways to get water and nutrients into a sick body, and bone broths seem to be especially stomach-soothing and nutrient-rich because of their gelatin, collagen, and mineral content. Adding some kind of acid like wine, lemon, or vinegar to the water as the broth cooks, as many traditional home recipes do, increases the mineral content of the final product even more. Many of the classic starches, especially rice and potatoes, are generally tolerated well by distressed gastrointestinal systems that might struggle with or reject meat, beans, corn or dairy fat. And most versions of the soup are enhanced by other nutrient-rich foods like onions and garlic and carrots and ginger and mushrooms, which are all also generally easy to digest once they’ve been cooked thoroughly, .

In 2000, some researchers at the University of Nebraska set out to test whether or not chicken soup could actually alleviate symptoms associated with the common cold and flu—particularly those in the respiratory tract—or if the oft-touted restorative effects were just the result of hydration and placebo. They studied the effects of one kind of homemade chicken soup, using a recipe from the lead researcher’s Lithuanian grandmother, and 13 commercial brands on neutrophil chemotaxis, which is probably one of the main causes of the inflammatory response that causes sputum production and coughing. They found that chicken soup inhibited neutrophil chemotaxis, and that it did so in a concentration-dependent manner, i.e. the more watered down the soup, the less of an effect it had. The commercial soups varied in their effectiveness—some showed no effect on the neutrophils at all, and others out-performed grandma’s, although they don’t say what the distinguishing feature might have been.

More chemotaxis = more inflammation, sputum, coughing. the homemade soup is the BOR They weren’t testing the soup on human subjects, but the in vitro effects at least suggest a mechanism by which chicken soup might actually make cold sufferers feel better (full published study available here).

Chicken Soup for the Congested, Nauseous, Aching, Hungover, Chronically Fatigued, Demoralized, Where Did September Go and Why Is It All So Hard Soul

Congee can be as simple as plain rice simmered in lots of water (usually at a 1:8 or 1:10 ratio of uncooked rice : water) until it’s basically the consistency of oatmeal. Like most grain porridges the world over, it’s typically flavored with either savory or sweet toppings and eaten for breakfast. However, the version made with chicken broth is nearly as common as the plain version, and is vastly more substantial and comforting. The rice is cooked until the grains begin to break down and release a lot of their starch, which makes the broth thick and creamy, almost like a loose risotto but without all the butter and cheese. If you’re ever in too bad a shape to do anything else, but you can manage to throw a half a cup of rice in a pot with 6-8 cups of broth and stir it from time to time, a couple of hours later, it’ll be a meal fit for an invalid. If you have a fuzzy logic-enabled rice cooker, it’s even easier—just put the rice and broth in the bowl and select the “porridge” option and then you don’t even have to stir.

I decided I wanted to make the most spectacularly healing soup I could possibly concoct, so I started with a basic mirepoix with some garlic and ginger, which also helps soothe nausea. If I’d been nursing a head cold I probably would have added a hot pepper, too. Once the onions were translucent, I added a splash of rice wine and then a big handful of finely diced shitake mushrooms. Then I added the rice—about 2 cups of leftover cooked short-grain rice that was 1/2 brown and 1/2 white—and 6 cups of chicken broth that had been hanging out in the freezer from the last time I had chicken bones. And then I threw in about 2 dozen knots of dried seaweed, which is also mineral-rich and supposedly helps boost immunity, and a bunch of chopped green onion to layer a brighter onion flavor on top of the cooked-onion base.

A couple of hours later, it was as thick as a cream soup and all the vegetables were completely soft. The mushrooms and seaweed make it richly umami and the ginger+garlic combination is as delicious as it is therapeutic. This is not some bland, insipid noodle broth, and really the only way to describe it is nourishing. Not a bad thing to have in your arsenal as the seasons change and winter approaches.

Recipe: Chicken and Rice Porridge drumstick bones and aromatic vegetables, the base of a stock; adding a little wine and/or vinegear will increase the calcium content of the broth

  • 1-2 T. cooking oil
  • 1 medium to large onion (or 2-3 leeks, white parts only, or 2 shallots)
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 large celery ribs
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 oz. fresh mushrooms (or dried mushrooms soaked in hot water for 15+ minutes)
  • 2-3 T. rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 cups leftover steamed rice or 1/2 cup uncooked rice, white or brown)
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or substitute any kind of broth)
  • 1/2 cup dried seaweed (or substitute any other cooking greens)
  • 3-4 green onions
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cups shredded cooked chicken (optional)
  • fresh cilantro or basil (optional)
  • chopped peanuts (optional)

mirepoix + ginger and garlicall the aromatics minced and sweating

1. Dice the onion, carrots, and celery ribs, mince the garlic cloves, and peel the ginger and cut it into 5-6 coin-shaped slices.

2. Heat the oil in a large pot until it shimmers, and sweat the vegetables until the onion is translucent (8-10 minutes). Meanwhile, mince the mushrooms.

3. Add a generous glug of the rice wine or sherry and let it cook off for 2-3 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the mushrooms and cook for another minute or two. I used about 2 cups of cooked brown and white short-grain ricegreen onions go in raw to add a brighter, grassier onion flavor on top of the sauteed onion

4. Add the rice, broth, seaweed, and green onions. If using leftover cooked rice, take a minute to break up any large clumps before adding the broth.

5. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours, stirring occasionally, until it’s the consistency of a thin oatmeal or porridge. You don’t need to stir much in the first hour, but as the rice begins to release it’s starch, you should give it a good stir it every 10-15 minutes to prevent it from adhering to the bottom of the pan and burning. You can add more water or broth or cover the pot if it starts to get too thick or stick to the bottom too much.

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken, if using, and cook just until heated through. Garnish with cilantro or basil and chopped peanuts, if desired.

at first, it will be brothy, much like chicken noodle soup after a couple of hours, thickened with starch and reduced liquid

Labor Day Lemon & Herb Chicken Drumsticks

I was a tiny bit afraid they'd gotten too dark, but they turned out perfect. If anything, we almost wanted them with a little more char.  

My Most Ambivalent Holiday

I was raised in a Union family. We checked clothing labels and only bought the ones that said “Made in the U.S.” We didn’t buy grapes because of César Chávez. Every year, my dad went to the Eugene V. Debs Memorial Kazoo Night where he watched a Tigers game from the bleachers and between innings, hummed “Solidarity Forever” in unison with bunch of other Union guys. He would bring home magnets that said “Stick it to capitalist tools” and sponges that said “Wipe up capitalist scum” and t-shirts emblazoned with a twist on Debs’ most famous quote:

While there is a lower class, I am in it, and 
while there is a criminal element I am of it, and 
while there is a soul in prison, I am not free, and
while there is a game in Tiger’s Stadium,
I am in the bleachers.

I stole this at some point in college because I just had to have it--a keychain is something you keep with you all the time, and I wanted one that would remind me of my dad

 I think he asked about it at some point and I pretended not to know where it had gone to. I wonder sometimes about whether that makes me a bad daughter...or a good one

My feelings about labor organization have gotten more complicated over the years. I’ve had to reckon with the fact that unions are fallible and that labor history is marred by strategic missteps and ugly bigotry. The current popularity of anti-union sentiment can’t be entirely attributed to Reaganomics and  right-wing campaigns—unions themselves bear at least some responsibility. However, that awareness—the idea that little-u unions can be wrong—seems to exist on a different spatio-temporal plane than my belief that the idea of Unions, or Unions qua Unions are good. That thought/feeling is deeper and also somehow before my ability to think about why unions make mistakes or the erosion of labor organization in the U.S. I guess it’s something like an article of faith.

That’s not to say I don’t have reasons for being pro-Union. I think all workers deserve a say in their conditions of employment. I think more egalitarian resource distribution is both morally and practically a good thing (for some of the same reasons that Robert Reich mentioned in his recent NYTimes op-ed). I believe that protections against some of the worst abuses of workers in the name of profit wouldn’t exist without labor organization, like the minimum wage and child labor laws. But ultimately, it’s impossible for me to separate those beliefs, which might be subjected to rational debate and supported or contested with evidence, from a more inchoate “Union = good” thought/feeling that precedes and undergirds them.

Ultimately, that faith eclipses my cynicism about how the holiday was only established to try to placate workers who were (justifiably) outraged about the fact that federal troops called in to put an end to the Pullman Strike had killed 13 workers and wounded 57. Or how the September date was set to distance it from International Worker’s Day, which commemorates the Haymarket Massacre and tends towards far more radical agitation and demonstration. Or how those injustices and the accomplishments of organized labor have largely slipped from our national memory. In many ways, Labor Day itself is a far better symbol of how unions are pacified and convinced to delay—often indefinitely—their pursuit of more radical demands than it is of the victories of organized labor.

I need bigger cages or stakes to tie them to. Also, I should probably check on them more than once a week.And then there’s the fact that it’s also the symbolic end of summer. The end of sundresses and afternoons when it’s too hot to do anything but take a nap near an open window and hope for the occasional breeze. The end of my annual half-hearted attempt to control a small tomato jungle. It is the official point when I can no longer pretend I’ll ever make up for the gap between everything I had intended to do and the summer that has actually eclipsed—with too few meandering walks, too little of my dissertation written, and far too few mint juleps.

Despite all of that, I love Labor Day for basically the same reason I love Thanksgiving and remain grudgingly fond of Memorial Day and the Fourth of July and, to a  lesser extent, Mother’s and Father’s Days. For one, they remind me to appreciate and celebrate things that I am truly grateful for. And moreover, my primary association with them has way less to do with the ostensible reasons for the holidays than it does with the way I celebrate them: by taking a day off work, getting together with friends and family, and eating some great food.

om nom nom nom nom

Like Sunday dinner, taken outside and designed for a crowd

For me, Labor Day food is less about specific dishes than a general principle—get outside and grill while you still can. And while I’m a big fan of all manner of proteins stuffed into sausage casings or mashed into patties, sometimes by September I’ve had enough of that. This is a recipe to turn to if you’ve also hit burger fatigue.

These drumsticks remind me of my favorite roast chicken. They’re marinated in a salty lemon and herb dressing that’s almost like a brine and then seared over the hottest part of the grill until the skin crisps and bathes the flesh in rendered chicken fat. Then, you move them to a cooler part of the grill where they slowly finish cooking, so the flesh stays almost indecently moist and succulent. Meanwhile you can roast some veggies or whatever else you like on the hot side.

Unlike roasting a whole chicken, the whole process—marinating and grilling—takes less than a hour. It’s also cheaper than roasting a whole chicken because you can often get drumsticks for as little as $1/lb, thanks largely to the national anxiety about fat. Ever since boneless, skinless chicken breasts became the protein of choice for many weight-conscious Americans, the more delicious parts have been practically free for the taking. And unlike whole roasted chickens, this recipe scales up or down effortlessly and doesn’t require any carving. You can whip this up in practically no time whether you’re just trying to get a weeknight dinner on the table or you’re cooking for the neighborhood block party, and you don’t even need silverware to eat them. If it’s the main protein you’re serving I’d estimate 2-4 drumsticks per person.

Solidarity Forever

Whatever your feelings on Unions/unions, whatever your current employment situation, and however you choose to celebrate (or not): I wish you dignity and justice in all your endeavors, the respect of anyone you work with or for, the pleasures and rewards of meaningful labor, and a good meal at the end of every day. Many of us who enjoy any of those things have unions to thank somewhere down the line. Happy Labor Day.

Recipe: Lemon & Herb Chicken Drumsticks (adapted from Epicurious)

  • lemon & herbs, post-zesting, pre-choppingone medium lemon, zest (~2 t.) and juice (~1/4 cup) 
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 t. kosher salt (or 1 1/2 t. regular)
  • half a dozen grinds of pepper (~1/2 t.)
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, minced, or 1 t. garlic powder
  • a small handful of fresh herbs (~1/4 cup) or 2 t. dried (oregano, rosemary, sage, parsley, tarragon and/or basil)
  • 12 chicken drumsticks 

1. Whisk together the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs.

2. Place the drumsticks in a plastic bag, preferably with a zip-top, and add the marinade. Squish all over to coat.

I didn't have a zip-top bag so I just used a twist tie to seal it, which worked just fine there's no need to wash the chicken first--any nasty bacteria on the outside will get killed when you cook it; if you wash it, you just risk getting that bacteria all over your kitchen, which you're not going to cook

3. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, or up to 2 days in the refrigerator.

4. Start the grill or preheat the oven to 450F.

5. Place the marinated drumsticks on the hottest part of the grill or on a foil-covered baking sheet in the preheated oven. If grilling, cook until they have a nice char on both sides and then move to the cooler part of the grill. If baking, turn the oven heat down to 200F.

moved to the cool side of the grill, making way for corn on the cob

6. Cook until the internal temperature is 150-155F or until the juices run clear and flesh at the bone is opaque. (Some people recommend cooking chicken to 165 or even 180F, but salmonella dies after 30 min at 140F so there’s really no reason to).

Coq au Vin, or really ambitious and somewhat disappointing adventures in amateur meat preparation. Also: how to break down a whole chicken into pieces

mmmm frenchy

I wouldn’t normally cook two chickens in back to back weeks, but last month I ordered two chickens from a local farm with a stand at the farmer’s market and then basically forgot all about it. The day after I roasted Larry, I got a call letting me know they’d killed my birds and I could pick them up Saturday. We were still working on Larry’s leftovers, so I decided to do something other than simple roasting with at least one of the local birds.* I’d been wanting to try Coq au Vin, the "classic" French treatment for old roosters, and even though my just-butchered birds were relatively small, young chickens, I decided to give it a go. many, many hours earlier

The reason "classic" gets scare quotes is that there’s some debate about whether Coq au Vin is actually the ancient, peasant dish it’s often alleged to be or something more modern. The most compelling evidence on the side of "ancient": the ingredients and methods are typical of many other age-old European cooking traditions—it’s basically a fricassee in wine with mirepoix (onions+carrots+celery), mushrooms, herbs, and some salt pork or bacon. There are also dozens of regional variations based on different varietals of grapes and mushrooms. For example, in the Alsace region, there’s a recipe for cooking roosters that uses Riesling, morels, and cream (the epicurious version is here). Additionally, since it’s basically a time and labor-intensive way of salvaging a tough piece of meat, it seems to exemplify the ideals of frugality and resourcefulness associated with old, "peasant" traditions.

But those traditions are often invented rather than discovered. What makes Coq au Vin questionable is that despite the long history of French culinary publications, the first written reference to "Coq au Vin" doesn’t show up until 1913. A decade later, when the first recipe for "Coq au Vin" appeared in print, it presented the idea as a truly novel. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, aside from the cockscomb, which was prized as a garnish, the cock was historically regarded as indigestible.

Whether or not it’s ancient, it’s certainly a "classic" in that it’s become part of the popular canon of French cuisine, on par with other dishes like ratatouille and coquilles St. Jacques, if not quite as iconic as the baguette. In The Next Iron Chef Season 2 Episode 2 earlier this month, Coq au Vin was one of the "classic inspirations" contestants had to use as the basis for an elimination challenge (along with things like boulliabaisse, pasta puttanesca, and Greek dolmas). Although its modern popularity is a little ironic, given the difficulty most cooks would have securing the titular rooster, it’s easy to see why it would be a winning flavor combination. What wouldn’t be delicious after marinating overnight and then simmering long and slow in a lot of wine infused with the richness of mushrooms, bacon, garlic, mirepoix, and fresh thyme? I’m almost tempted to try it with an old belt or pair of worn out shoes.

That gets at the main reason I was ultimately dissatisfied with the results: it was tasty enough, but the chicken is basically expendable. As a meal, it was no better than this mushroom bourguignon and way, way more time consuming. It’s not that it’s hard, but it just doesn’t quite seem worth it. So unless I happen into some old rooster meat, I’ll stick to roasting my chickens—which is not only easier, but tastes better and takes advantage of their juicy, tender, young meat better.

*I will never get over the delightful double-entendreness of birds and women, and because I am intellectually thirteen, I will never give a chicken a classically feminine name. The idea of a "bird named Larry" just tickles me on so many stupid levels. I named this one "Biff."

Recipe and pictures below the jump

Recipe: Coq au Vin, adapted from Alton Brown

  • ~20 pearl onions
  • one whole 4-lb chicken, or 6-8 servings worth of pre-cut chicken pieces
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 T. water
  • 6 oz. salt pork, chopped into 1/4" cubes
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms (also sold as "baby bellas")
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 750-ml bottle red wine, preferably cheap**
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped in 1-2" chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped in 1-2" chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 T. dried thyme or 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 4 cups chicken stock

Boil a small-to-medium pot of water (large enough to submerge the pearl onions), cut off the root ends of the pearl onions, and cut an "ex" in each one (I’m not sure the "x" is necessary, but it probably takes less than a minute for the whole bunch. Then, blanche the onions in the boiling water for 1 minute and remove to an icewater bath. Let cool for a minute or two and then drain. The skins should slip right off. I suspect that frozen, peeled pearl onions would be a completely adequate and way more convenient substitute if you wanted to skip this step entirely. possibly-unnecessary "x"blanched and denuded

Cut the chicken into 6-8 pieces. I was nervous about this and tried to find a guide online, but after wading through a guide to butchering chickens en masse starting with the kill and gutting, which suggested that the actual carcass breakdown was "pretty intuitive," I decided to basically start hacking at it with a sharp knife at all the places where it seems natural to hack at it. That actually worked pretty well.

I started by removing both of the wings, which separate from the body at a joint and then the legs and thighs—also connected at a joint. I had a harder time finding the hip joint, but after wiggling around with the knife a little I managed. Then I sliced the breast meat off as close to the ribs as possible, a lot like you do when you’re carving a roasted bird. And that’s it—you’re left with six pieces of meat and a carcass. Amazingly easy and indeed, pretty intuitive. Good to know, given that whole chickens are often cheaper than buying already-cut pieces, and you get a bonus backbone with enough meat on it to make a nice soup or stock sometime.

 this is biff. de-winged   de-leg/thighed biffde-breasted biff Biff is soup of the future

Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper and then coat with flour by placing them, a few pieces at a time, in a plastic bag with the flour and shaking. Remove and set aside.

wheee FLASH

Meanwhile, cut the salt pork into small cubes and add to a large skillet along with 2 T. water. Cover and cook until the water evaporates. Apparently this step removes some of the salt, and perhaps a little bit evaporates, but especially if it’s covered, most of it would stay in the pot, so I’m not sure if that step was necessary either. But you do need to render the fat, so water or no, cook until the pieces are crispy and brown and sitting in a pool of hot grease. While the pork cooks, you can prep the other vegetables: quarter the mushrooms, chop the celery, the medium onion, and the carrots into big pieces, and peel and crush the garlic. The mushrooms and pearl onions are the only things that remain in the stew for serving, so you really don’t need to worry about making the vegetables bite-sized. A very rough chop will do.

When the pork is crisp, remove it to a container large enough to contain the pork, onions, and mushrooms (the latter two will cook down—a 2-3 cup container should be big enough). Next, saute the peeled onions until golden brown and remove those to the same container. Then, fry the chicken in batches for a couple of minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Does this matter when it’s just going to get simmered for hours? I don’t know. The skin is not going to end up crisp in the final dish, but perhaps the browning adds some depth to the flavor. It’s probably not strictly necessary.

 bitsy onions half of Biff, browning

As they finish browning, put the chicken pieces in a large oven-safe pot (preferably enameled cast iron according to AB, although a very well-seasoned Dutch oven or other covered casserole dish might work as well).

The last ingredient getting the saute treatment in the pork fat is the mushrooms. If there isn’t enough fat left in the pan, you can add a tablespoon of butter. Once the mushrooms start to release their liquid, remove them to the same container as the bacon and onions, cover and refrigerate.

Pour about 1 cup of white wine into the skillet and stir well to deglaze, meaning dissolve all the brown bits remaining in the pan. Add the tomato paste and stir to dissolve, adding more wine if necessary. Add the deglazing mixture to the chicken, along with the rest of the bottle of wine, the other vegetables, the herbs, and the stock. AB calls for two bottles of wine but my pot wasn’t nearly big enough and that seemed excessive for one little chicken. I did double the amount of stock he uses, though. The idea is to have the chicken and vegetables entirely submerged/floating in a pot full of liquid. Cover it and refrigerate overnight.

the dream of the hoover administration deglazing

The next day, preheat the oven to 325F, place the pot in the oven and cook 2-2 1/2 hours or until the chicken is done through (155-165F). When the chicken is done, turn the oven down to warm, remove the chicken to a separate casserole dish, cover and place in the oven.

Then, strain out the vegetables and aromatics and discard them (you’ve already gotten as much flavor out of them as they have to give). Bring the remaining liquid to a simmer on the stovetop and reduce by at least 1/2, which will take about a half an hour. Assuming you’re serving the meal with a starch (egg noodles seem standard, rice or potatoes would also be good…eh, as noted, almost anything drowning in this sauce would be good), try to time it so it’s ready around the same time as the sauce.

When the sauce is reduced and thickened, add the pearl onions, bacon, and mushrooms and cook just until heated through. If the sauce isn’t as thick as you’d like it, whisk together equal parts flour or cornstarch and water or stock, and add that to the sauce. Start with 1 T. each and increase if desired. Let the starch heat through before deciding if you need more.

to strain, I just spooned the solids into a colander held over the pot finished stew

I added al dente egg noodles directly to the pot to finish cooking in the sauce, which may have improved their flavor slightly but made for somewhat gummier leftovers than would have been ideal. In the future, I’ll keep the noodles and sauce separate. Well, and I’ll also omit the chicken entirely.

Here’s the pared-down version that I think would hit most of the key flavor elements with minimal time and effort, very similar to the mushroom bourguignon linked above and easily made vegan.

Recipe: Coq-less Coq au Vin

  • 1 bottle red wine, cheap**
  • 1 package frozen pearl onions
  • 1-2 lbs mushrooms, any variety, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 2 cups stock, vegetable, chicken, beef, or mushroom
  • 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 t. dried
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 T. butter or vegetable oil or ~6 oz. salt pork or bacon, diced
  • 2 T. cornstarch or flour

Either cook the bacon and remove, or heat the butter or oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sweat the garlic and onions in whatever fat you’ve chosen until the latter are golden or browning. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add herbs, stock, wine, and tomato paste and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until liquid is reduced by more than half. Add the pearl onions and simmer another 10 minutes or until they’re tender. Whisk cornstarch into 2 T. water or stock, add to pot and stir well.

**The reason to use cheap wine while cooking is that, much like delicate or aromatic oils, the subtle flavors aren’t going to survive the heat, especially when cooked for a long time the way they are in this dish. A few years ago, Julia Moskin reported for the New York Times on the results of a series of experiments she did to test the theory that you should "never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink." Even in double-blinds, she and her tasters consistently preferred classic dishes made with cheap wines rather than expensive ones:

Over all, wines that I would have poured down the drain rather than sip from a glass were improved by the cooking process, revealing qualities that were neutral at worst and delightful at best. On the other hand, wines of complexity and finesse were flattened by cooking — or, worse, concentrated by it, taking on big, cartoonish qualities that made them less than appetizing.

It wasn’t that the finished dishes were identical — in fact, they did have surprisingly distinct flavors — but the wonderful wines and the awful ones produced equally tasty food, especially if the wine was cooked for more than a few minutes.

Simple Roast Chicken, or more adventures in amateur meat preparation

I named this one Larry

This was my fourth or fifth roast chicken—I’ve tried it Thomas Keller’s way with almost no seasoning and no added fat, just lots of salt to dry out the skin so it stays crispy,  "Peruvian-style," which is covered in a pungent mixture of garlic, cumin, cayenne, smoked paprika, oil and vinegar, and a one-lemon version of Marcella Hazan’s "Chicken with Two Lemons." They’re all pretty great, but rather than pick a favorite I seem to be settling into a combination of all three of those along with techniques and tips and techniques I’ve picked up from so many random places I can’t remember where and give them proper credit.

The basic formula is lots of garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, salt, and pepper tucked underneath the skin with the whole zested lemon and a few extra cloves of garlic shoved into the cavity. I truss it—no stitching, I just tie up the legs so it stays together—and rain kosher salt all over the skin. Then I roast it in a pre-heated cast iron pot at 425F for 20 min breast-up, 20 min breast-down, and 20 min breast-up or until the internal temperature is between 145-150F. I let it rest 15-20 min before carving, and usually serve it with a green salad.

nice, polite dinner portionWe typically carve off the breasts and drumsticks and eat them like polite adults, with a knife and fork, but when we finish with that, we inevitably start picking at the remains with our fingers. After a few minutes of that, we abandon all propriety and flip the body over to dig out the oysters and lick the juices dripping down our hands and wrists, making little guttural noises. When’s the last time a boneless, skinless chicken breast made you do that?

after the carnage--the little spoons about 1/3 of the way down from the top are where the oysters wereA day or two later, after using the leftover meat in salads or sandwiches or omelets or quesadillas, I simmer the carcass for 4-6 hours with a bunch of vegetable peelings I accumulate in a zip-top bag in the freezer, along with a clove or two of fresh garlic, a couple of carrots and celery stalks if I have them around, and some thyme and bay leaves. That yields about two quarts of pretty amazing chicken stock. When we’re out of stock, it’s time to buy another chicken.

Details and pictures of the process after the jump:

Recipe: Roast Chicken

  • 4-5 lb chicken
  • 1 lemon
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 T. kosher salt
  • 1 t. black pepper
  • Dijon mustard, to serve

Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Remove any giblets and save for the stock. Crush and peel the garlic cloves, and slice 3 of them thinly. Zest the lemon. Mince the rosemary.

Larry and friends

Combine the lemon zest, rosemary, sliced garlic, black pepper, and about 1 t. of the salt and stuff underneath the skin of the chicken.

seasoning blend you can see the slices of garlic peeking through the skin a little in the upper left

Truss the bird by tucking the wings up and under the back like so:

tucking the wings

Stab the naked lemon with a fork or toothpick a half a dozen times, and insert it into the cavity along with the crushed cloves of garlic and some more rosemary. Then, take a long piece of kitchen twine or unwaxed dental floss, and loop it under both drumsticks. Make an "x" between the drumsticks and loop the twine under the opposite drumsticks, like you’re making a figure 8 around them.

truss, truss, truss the bird I know, it's lewd.

Then wrap both ends around to the other side of the bird and tie a knot or a bow that sits just underneath the severed neck.

okay, "severed neck" might be off-putting, but I like remembering that Larry was alive and be-limbed once

Rain the remaining 2-3 t. salt all over the outside of the skin, and let it rest so it comes to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 425 for 30 minutes with a cast iron pot large enough to hold the chicken inside.

When the oven and pot are hot, carefully place the chicken breast-side up in the pot and set a timer for 20 minutes. If you want to, you can oil the pan, but the fat from the skin will seep out and should prevent it from sticking. When the timer goes off, carefully flip the bird (lolz) and set the timer for another 20 min. Repeat that one more time so it finishes breast-up.

The USDA thinks your chicken should be cooked to 180F, which is probably why so many people think chicken is inherently dry, boring, and terrible. Salmonella can’t live at temperatures higher than 163, but I’ve seen a number of recipes saying you only need to roast chicken until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 145F. My general rule with meat is to cook it to the lowest recommended temp I find, so 145F is the mark I shoot for. The other indicator with chicken is whether or not the juices run clear (instead of pink or red). The one time I let it go to 155F, it was too dry for my taste, and when I overcorrected in the other direction and took it out despite getting internal readings in the low 140s, the juices on the cutting board looked bloody. The temperature will continue to rise another ten degrees as it rests, so if you’re very concerned about food safety, go ahead and let it go to 155F, but much higher than that and you’re going to end up with dry, flavorless chicken.

roast chicken 014While it rested, I decided to throw together a green salad. I had a heel of very stale bread, so I diced that up and tossed it in some of the fat from the pan and seasoned salt (dried onion, dried garlic, salt, black pepper, and parsley) and put it in the oven on a piece of crimped foil to toast. Then, I washed some lettuce and diced some carrots and topped that with some leftover roasted cauliflower from dinner a few nights ago. I make a quick dressing by whisking together one part white wine vinegar to two parts olive oil with about a teaspoon of Dijon and some more of the seasoned salt.

Simple, delicious luxury. I still try not to eat a lot of meat, or eat meat with every meal, but this is one of those things that makes me really glad I’m not a vegetarian anymore.

Thanks for the meal, Larry.