CONSIDER THE CHICKEN

Oh humble chicken, you have been much-abused.  Penned-in, overfed, packaged on sterile Styrofoam and pumped full of watery broth, deboned, all-too-often rendered dry and tasteless.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course.

roast chicken

Out of a whole set of reasons which are probably suited for a separate blog post, Jill and I made the decision over a year ago to stop buying conventionally raised & processed meats.  I could say a lot, lot more about how and why we did this and how glad I am that we did, but for now I’ll just stick with: I’ll be damned if the chicken sure doesn’t taste a heckuva lot better.  You know, like food you’d actually want to eat.

I also find it brings great satisfaction to use the bird in its entirety, from neck to wingtip. It’s what your grandma—well not my grandma, but someone’s grandma—would do.  I want to be that grandma in the kitchen: thorough, efficient, capable, fearless.

So let’s reclaim the chicken in all of its juicy, satisfying glory!  It’s amazing how well you can feed yourself and, if applicable, your family, with one respectfully-treated bird.

Today’s somewhat complicated post proceeds as follows:

Roast a chicken
Make chicken salad out of leftover breast meat
Make chicken stock using the carcass
Make chicken soup with the stock & any remaining chicken meat

{Repeat}

You don’t have to go through all of these steps, of course; you can easily make the chicken salad or soup with a store-bought rotisserie chicken.  But I hope at some point you will take a second look at the humble chicken, perhaps splurge on a free-range version, and spend some time in your kitchen with her, for she is so much more than the zebra-striped grilled breasts she’s so cruelly reduced to.

ROAST CHICKEN

Okay.  There are lots of fancy recommendations out there about tucking slivers of garlic under the skin or mixing up ten-ingredient spice rubs with which to coat the entire bird, and you can do all of that, I am not going to stop you.

But promise me you’ll try, at least once, the almost sinful simplicity and ease of  roasting a chicken practically naked.  Planning to eat it for dinner?  Roast some potatoes and parsnips (drizzled in olive oil, seasoned with salt & pepper) underneath.  Planning to reserve the meat for later?  Roast carrots, onions, a few cloves of garlic, & celery underneath to transfer directly into a stock pan.

Take the chicken out of the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to cook it.  Preheat your oven to 450°.

Using paper towels, dry the chicken extremely well, inside and out.  Cover the skin liberally with salt (kosher, if possible) & pepper.  You may stuff the breast with herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, etc. and/or half of a lemon.

I like to roast my chicken this way: in the roasting pan go the potatoes and veggies.  On top of those, I set a small rack (the same kind I use for cooling baked goods), and on top of that, I set the chicken.  This allows for more even cooking than if the chicken sits directly on top of the vegetables.

You can truss the chicken, as you see I did here, but honestly I’ve roasted without and just don’t think it’s necessary.  Roast the chicken, breast side up, for 45 minutes to an hour, depending upon the size of your bird.

Make sure you let the bird rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting into it.  Divide the bird into breasts, legs, & wings, but watch out for eager kitchen visitors trying to snatch bites from over your shoulder (ahem, cough, Jill, cough cough).

CURRY CHICKEN SALAD

My version of the classic.  You’ll see I like my chicken salad chunky, but feel free to chop everything into smaller pieces if you prefer.  Tastes even better the next day.

chicken salad sandwich
ingredients:

2 cups cooked chicken breast meat, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored, & small-diced (I used a McIntosh)
1 rib celery, small-diced
½ cup pecans, toasted & chopped
¼ cup red onion, small-diced

1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup Dijon mustard
1 tsp. curry powder
splash of white wine vinegar or lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients.  Serve on toasted bread or, if you must, lettuce.

HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK

Just as with roasting a chicken, there’s no one way to make chicken stock.  If you do make it at home, though, I swear on my Kitchen Aid mixer that it will be about 8 million times better than the stuff you can buy at the store.

Time is your friend when making chicken stock, so you can’t be in a rush.  I find that a minimum of 3-4 hours are required for a concentrated, brightly-hued batch.

chicken stock on the stove

ingredients:

chicken carcass
2 onions
3 carrots
3 ribs celery
2-3 cloves garlic
fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
splash of vinegar
salt & pepper

optional: white wine

If you roast the vegetables with the chicken, you can cut everything into big pieces and transfer them directly to a large pot along with the chicken carcass when you’re ready to make stock.  Deglaze the roasting pan with white wine and then add that liquid to the pot as well.

If you’re making stock separately, dice the veggies and sweat them out in the stock pot first, with a little olive oil.  Once they’re translucent, add the chicken carcass and enough water to cover the whole mess.  Throw in the seasonings and a splash vinegar (said to help draw flavor out of the bones).

Bring to a boil and then simmer on low to medium heat, skimming the surface to remove any foam that appears in the first hour or so of cooking.  After that, keep an eye to see how the liquid is reducing down the side of the pot.  Once you can see a three-to-four-inch gap between where you started and where you are now, you’re in business.  Like I said, give it at least three hours.

Allow the mixture to cool a bit before removing the carcass with tongs and then straining the liquid through a sieve.  Discard vegetables and pick carcass clean of any extra meat bits.

Store the chicken stock in the refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container.  The fat solids will rise to the top upon cooling; if you like, you can remove them.  I don’t!


CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

I made a noodle-less version of this soup for my friend Courtney a few weeks back, when she was feeling rather under-the-weather (see: germy students).  She texted me the next day to say “I’m healed!  And I’m pretty sure it was your soup that did it.”  Hey, maybe becoming that grandma after all!

Credit for this recipe goes to Chef Roger Elkhouri, who taught the only cooking class I’ve ever taken.  He was the head chef for my dorm in college and even though I hold him responsible for my Freshman 15 (it was bread and cakes for me, people, not beer!), he’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and a culinary hero still.

chicken noodle soup

ingredients:

1 yellow onion, diced
2 ribs celery, sliced thickly at a diagonal
2 carrots, peeled & sliced thickly at a diagonal
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
1 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. nutmeg

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
4 cups broad egg noodles, cooked

Cook the onion, celery, & carrots in the bottom of a soup pot in a little vegetable oil.  Add the garlic once the vegetables have begun to soften.  Once the mixture is translucent, add the stock and spices.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer gently at least thirty minutes.  Add the chicken and egg noodles to warm through.  Remove bay leaf, cinnamon stick, & cloves before serving.

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MEXICAN-STYLE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH

This may be my favorite sandwich of all time.

torta al pastor

I mean, come on.  Chipotle-and-honey-marinated pork tenderloin with spicy mayonnaise, melted cheese, pineapple, avocado, & cilantro clearly equals heaven.

Of course, I’m biased in favor of all things Mexican and Tex-Mex.  It’s in my blood.  My mother perfected the Blue Jean Gourmet margarita recipe while bartending in a Mexican restaurant in the seventies.  My father, who worked for that chain of Mexican restaurants, took the three of us on a Texas road-trip for research purposes when I was a pre-teen; we ate our way through Dallas, Houston, & San Antonio, consuming tortilla after tortilla, trying salsa after salsa, and the night we arrived home in Memphis, decided to make—you guessed it!—Mexican food for dinner.

Now I live in Houston, where I’m lucky to have the chance to taste-test all kinds of Mexican and Tex-Mex food, from high-end, award-winning places to less-fancy-but-still-delicious taco trucks that line the city.  And it was here in Houston, during college, that I fell in love with the cheap-but-filling tortas served up at this restaurant.

The torta is a Mexican-style sandwich, typically made on a crusty, baguette-type roll called a bolillo, with myriad possible fillings, including al pastor, or pork, which I did my best to recreate at home a few weeks ago.

Personally, I think this would make an excellent weekend sandwich, because it’s incredibly satisfying but not very fussy. Marinate the pork tenderloin ahead of time, grill it up outside and you won’t even have to heat up your house (bonus!)

sliced pork tenderloin

While it’s cooking, prep your accoutrement and lay it all out so everyone can make his/her own sandwich.  For an authentic accompaniment, try making elote with the last of sweet-summer corn.  Mexico City without the plane ticket, my friends!  Enjoy.

MEXICAN-STYLE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH avocado cilantro pineapple
serves 4

components:

bread (bolillo roll or baguette)

pork tenderloin (1 lb- 1 ½ lb)*

chipotle mayonnaise*

sliced cheese (Mexican-style cheeses with a sharp flavor that will melt well include queso quesadilla, asadero, or chihuahua.  Substitute mild cheddar if you can’t find any of these)

sliced avocado

cubed pineapple

quick-pickled onions*

To assemble, lay the split rolls on a baking sheet and place cheese on one side of each.  Place under a low broiler or on the grill you just used to cook the pork until the cheese melts.

Slice up tenderloin to desired thickness & let everyone “have at” the sandwich making!

*PORK TENDERLOIN

If you’ve never used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce before, PLEASE go out and buy a jar now (they’re cheap!)  Chipotle peppers are simply smoked jalapeños but their flavor is amazing.
chipotle in adobo
marinade:

1 cup chipotle-flavored barbecue sauce
2 T honey
1 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

optional: I had an over-ripe peach which I peeled, pureed, & added to the marinade.

If you don’t have one on hand, throwing in some apricot preserves might make a nice counterpoint to the spice.

Grilling the tenderloin is easiest, searing it first on all sides over a medium-high flame, then moving it off the heat and letting it cook, grill cover down, for about 15 minutes.  Bring the tenderloin inside and let it rest, covered in foil, before cutting into it.

If grilling is not an option, your best bet is to sear the tenderloin on your stovetop, in either a grill pan or other heavy-bottomed pan, then transfer the whole thing to a 425° oven for about 15-20 minutes.

*CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE

This isn’t rocket science, really.  Mayonnaise + fresh lime juice + a spoonful or two (depending on your heat tolerance) of chipotles in adobo.  Annnnnnd done!

*QUICK-PICKLED ONIONS

quick-pickled onions

I’m an onion lover.  Absolutely adore them any way they’re offered up, raw, grilled, pickled, fried.  In fact, my mom used to tell me when I was little that I’d better marry someone who loved onions and garlic as much as I do, otherwise I’d have a problem.  Thank goodness for Jill or I’d never get any kisses!

I know most people do not share my love of the onion.  However, pickling red onion is a great way to take the “edge” off of the taste but add flavor & crunch to your sandwich.  Pickled carrots, which you can also find pre-made on the same aisle as the chipotles in adobo, are a good alternative if you really just aren’t an onion fan.

Slice the desired amount of red onion thinly.  Bring between ½ cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to a boil, then add an equal amount of white sugar and a pinch of salt.  Add onions and remove from the heat.  Toss in a little cilantro & a pinch of cumin.  Let the onions sit in the liquid until ready to serve.

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LAMB BURGERS

If you’re scared of this recipe already, bear with me.  Let me work with you.  I know you’ve been hurt by lamb in the past, but this time things will be different, I promise.  It’s not your fault that the lamb in your life has been over-cooked and served with mint jelly.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

545726169_dsc_0318
See?  That looks tasty, no?  Can you give lamb another chance?

I’ve made this recipe a few times, with lamb skeptics in the crowd each go-around.  My latest convert is none other than Sonya, our esteemed photographer, who had her first lamb burger last weekend at the end of a marathon cooking-and-picture-taking day.  When I told her I was planning to post about the burgers today, she said “Man, I’ve been craving those all week!”  Guess I’m going to have to make some more soon.

The only complicated thing about this recipe is locating the necessary ingredients. Depending on where you live, this actually may not be so complicated!  Most “mainstream” grocery stores sell ground lamb, and if you don’t see it out front, ask nicely at the meat counter; chances are they can grind some up for you.

Another option to check out is your local halal meat market, should you have one.  Halal is the rough Islamic equivalent of “kosher”–like kosher meat, any meat labeled “halal” has come from an animal slaughtered in a specific  way designed to ease the animal’s suffering.  One unique feature of halal meat is that all of the blood is drained before it’s sold.  This makes it a great choice for anyone feeling a little uncertain about the flavor of lamb, since draining the blood makes the flavor of the meat much more mild.

Continuing down the ingredient list…  545716200_dsc_0266

feta–the pre-crumbled kind is easiest here, but use whatever you like.

pine nuts–I love these things.  I throw them in pasta or serve them with roasted broccoli & fat shavings of Parmesan.  And, they add the perfect toothsome texture to these burgers–really, don’t leave them out.  Store any extras you have in the fridge to keep them from going rancid.

the herbs–fresh really is best (and hey, mint is super-easy to grow!), but if you buy from the store, keep your leftover herbage (to coin an Alton Brown term) in the crisper, nestled into a large Ziploc bag with a paper towel.  I can seriously keep flat-leaf parsley going for a month this way.

allspice–you may not already have this around, but it adds amazing flavor to all kinds of things: jerk-style chicken, chili, baked goods, homemade sausage, barbecue sauce, etc.

Simply put, these burgers are GOOD.  I’ll bet you could make them for people without telling them they were lamb, and the people would eat them, and the people would like them, and then you could surprise the people, but I guess that’s a little bit sneaky/unethical, huh?

Have you ever “converted” someone to liking an ingredient they previously disliked?  Or been converted?  If so, I’d love to hear about it!  Comment away.

LAMB BURGERS  545725282_dsc_0314

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (if you absolutely can’t stomach the thought, substitute ground turkey)

1/2 cup feta (or other goat cheese), crumbled

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/4 cup each fresh mint & flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T allspice

zest of one lemon (optional)

salt & pepper

accompaniments: hamburger buns, sliced cucumber, red onion, dill mayonnaise* OR pita bread, cucumber, onion, tzatziki sauce*

Saute garlic & onion in olive oil over medium-low heat until translucent.  Allow to cool a bit before combining with the other ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly–hands are best for this!–and form into patties.  Traditional hamburger-style, I recommend you make your burgers wider than the buns you plan to use, as the patties will shrink when you cook them.  I got six out of my last batch.

Alternately, if you’re serving with pita, make a bunch of small, flat-meatball-ish sized patties (about 12-15) so they’ll stuff into the pocket more easily.

Heat up your grill pan or outdoor grill (I don’t recommend outside if you are making small patties–they don’t skewer well).  Grill over medium-high heat on both sides to achieve a nice, brown crust.  Either turn heat down or move burgers to indirect heat and continue cooking until desired doneness is reached (we like a little pink in the middle).  On my stove-top grill pan, one batch took approximately 8-10 minutes.

545722730_dsc_0307

Serve immediately with accompaniments.  Enjoy!

Dill Mayonnaise

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 T fresh dill, chopped or 1 tsp. dried
1 clove garlic, minced fine

Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth.  Resist the urge to slather this all over everything.  (Or, if you’re me, fail to resist said urge).

Tzatziki Sauce

This is a traditional Greek condiment, so it works best with thick, Greek-style yogurt.  If you can’t find that, use plain, full-fat yogurt.

1 cup plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled & grated
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh dill or 1/2 tsp. dried
juice of half a lemon

Squeeze grated cucumber in a paper towel to remove excess moisture.  Combine the rest of the ingredients–if you make this ahead of time, the garlic flavor will become more intense.

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