16 March 2011

Rejects no longer [stock, sugar, and other tasty things]

How I've been turning kitchen scraps into good food.

1) Chicken stock. For as long as I've been paying attention in the kitchen, I cannot remember my mom buying canned broth (okay, maybe twice). What I do remember is a big pot simmering on the back of the stove, releasing a savory, inviting aroma whenever the lid was lifted. What was in there? Homemade chicken stock. Now I make it too.

First roast a chicken for dinner. It's easier than you may think. My mom does it in the oven; I do it in my crockpot. Trim off the excess fat, rinse and pat dry with paper towel. Quarter an onion or two and put it in the bottom of the crockpot, along with the giblets from the chicken. Rub herbs and salt and pepper all over the bird, stick it in the crockpot, pour some white wine and olive oil on top, and cook for 2 hours and 45 minutes on high . . . at least, that's the timing for my crockpot. (One thing I know: whether in the crockpot or the oven, high heat for a short time is better than low heat for a long time. The latter option gives you dry meat.)

Anywho, after dinner cut the leftover meat from the chicken's carcass, and use it for whatever you'd like later in the week. Now the fun begins. Put the entire carcass, the juices left on the platter, any stray bones or skin, and those giblets and quartered onions into a heavy stockpot (or back into your crockpot). Add water to cover-- I usually end up with 3 quarts of stock at the end, so I guess that's how much water I add. It is better to err on the side of too little water than too much, because it's nicer to have a super-strong broth than a wimpy one. You can always add more water next time.

Now if you're using a pot on the stove, bring it all to a rolling boil and immediately turn it down to the lowest heat possible. Cover and let simmer overnight. (Yes, the stove will be on overnight. My parents have been doing this for years now and their house has never burned down.) If you're using a crockpot, just let it cook on low heat overnight.

N.B: If you're doing this on the stove, FOR GOSH SAKES REMEMBER TO TURN THE POT DOWN TO LOW. If you don't, you'll end up with a smoky kitchen and possibly a smoky house. And you'll have one heck of a time scrubbing that charred pot. You want to know how I found that out?! Yeah, there's a reason I use the crockpot now.

In the morning, shut off the stove or crockpot and let the stock cool for several hours. Strain it, discard solids, and store in quart containers. Old yogurt or sour cream containers are great for this. This will keep in the fridge for quite a while, and in the freezer for even longer. If you freeze it, make sure you leave about 3/4 inch of headspace, because it will expand.

I also save carrot or celery peelings and trimmings in a container in the freezer. Whenever I make stock, into the pot they go. Even more delicious.

2) Orange and vanilla sugar. Winter is citrus season and we've been eating lots of navel oranges. Rather than throw all the peels away, I sliced some thinly and put them into a pint jar of plain white sugar. Four or five days later, the sugar had a fabulous orange flavor. (And the peels were gorgeously sugar-coated. I kind of ate them all.) I did the same thing with a vanilla bean a while ago . . . put it in a small jar of sugar and let the flavor infuse. Now I have special sugars to top baked oatmeal, stir into tea, or sprinkle on pancakes.

N.B: The sugar got obnoxiously clumpy because of the moisture in the orange peels. So I let it sit out in a bowl for a few days to dry, then whizzed it up in my food processor. All better.

3) Croutons. Stale bread is of course excellent for French toast. However, it's also excellent for croutons. Slice that bread into small cubes and spread them on a plate. Let them dry out for several days. Toss with olive oil, lots of salt, and some herbs if you like. Toast them at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Voila, croutons.

4) Pizza, omelets, and soup. These are really wonderful for using up odds and ends in the refrigerator or pantry. You don't always need a recipe, you know. :) If you can make pizza crust* you can put anything you want on it. If you have eggs you have the material for an omelet. If there is some chicken stock in the fridge, then hey, a soup is nothing more than stock with things in it. Once you learn which flavors go well together-- potatoes and thyme, chicken and paprika, spinach and mushrooms-- chuck the recipe and wing it. You'll be surprised at what you can invent.

*I need to post the new and better recipe I found . . .

{image credit: adam cunningham on Flickr}

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