Monday, 18 April 2011

If You Know (and Are Comfortable with) Poultry, Proceed

Alongside all of the Saturday morning cartoons, as well as the afternoon cooking programs on our local public broadcasting channel, painter Bob Ross stands out as an influential character in my artistic journey. It was in large part because of him that I ended up dabbling in oil painting and watercolor; and if/when memories of his fro or the scraping of the painter's knife against a canvas fade away, one word will somehow resonate with his seemingly flawless relationship with his work: happy. For those of you who know what I am talking about, I am of course referring to the embellishments Bob would add to his paintings, most notably his happy little clouds, or the tree friends he would add to his compositions. All of this randomness is to say that in a different medium of art--i.e., culinary--I seek happiness through food, and am particularly pleased when I have happy cooking accidents. Last Wednesday, the 13th, marked one such happy cooking accident.

However, the story does not actually begin on the 13th. It actually begins on the 10th when I went to the grocery store and saw how cheap it actually is to buy a "whole" chicken. Quite recently, I have heard--within the context of the economy the way it is today--the many references to the ability of breaking down a chicken by hand rather than having the butchers do the work for you. And so, I thought "why not?" and thus added breaking down a chicken to my list of culinary challenges. Three days later (i.e., now back to the 13th), I had finally carved out (pun intended) a good chunk of time to finally break down this chicken... while watching Top Chef: Masters, of course. Mind you, the process in which I am about to describe did not flow as quickly in actuality as I am presenting it here, and certainly not at the level of those YouTubers and professional chef vloggers that I researched and read up on prior to making the cuts. In any case, begin by removing the packet of innards found in the cavity of the chicken. Then, go ahead an pull one of the drumsticks away from the chicken, making a slit in that fold of skin connecting the drumstick/thigh to the rest of the bird. You should then be able to feel the joint and socket of the thigh/hip (clearly I am not an anatomy major) and cut the chicken along that joint, to remove the drumstick and thigh in one joined piece. Repeat this to the other side.

Next, it is time to find the "tickle spot," as one vlogger said. As one would expect, this would be the area between the wing and the rest of the body. After making the incision, similar to that for the thighs, you should be able to release and cut off the wing without much trouble.

Now, at this point, you should be able to basically find the halfway point from the opposing cavity view; on this horizontal cut, divide the back of the chicken from the breasts of the chicken (in this view, downward on the cutting mat). Save the chicken back for the homemade chicken stock, and trim the breasts as close to the bone as you can. If you are particularly good, you can cut off the breastbone so that it is even easier to split the chicken breasts and fillet them off the rib cage. The last division is to separate the drumstick from the thigh, which can be done by cutting between the bone joints. At this point, if you do not plan on using the chicken pieces immediately, place them in freezer bags, leaving space in between each piece (this tip I learned a few months ago from America's Test Kitchen ensures the pieces do not freeze to each other, making it unnecessary to have to defrost a whole batch of chicken pieces when only one/a few are needed).

At the time, I did not need the broken down chicken for anything and with midnight soon approaching, I took some time to research different ways of making a homemade chicken stock, and eventually settled on adapting the one-hour method (method 2), as presented by Simply Recipes contributor Elise. To begin, start off the process by dicing up the aromatics; in my case I only had an onion and some leftover carrots.

In one tablespoon of olive oil and on med-hi heat, sauté the aromatics the onion has sweated into the olive oil and has changed colour, and the carrots have softened. Transfer these into a bowl and in the same sauté pan you just worked with for the aromatics, brown all sides of the chicken pieces/carcass you plan on using for the stock; you do not need to actually fully cook the chicken at this point. As you finish each section (do not worry about hacking away at the bigger pieces to make them smaller, unless  you do need to get this done in an hour), transfer them to the bowl with the aromatics so all the wonderful juices can mingle with each other.

After you finish browning all your chicken pieces, return them and the aromatics into the sauté pan and cook everything covered on medium heat for about 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes are up, you should get something like the photo on the above right, with great juices and deliciousness all in the pan.

Next, into a boiling pot of water (8 c), carefully transfer everything from the skillet to the pot. Into the pot, add a healthy pinch each of ground sea salt and ground black pepper. For the one-hour method (again, which I ended up not doing), allow the water to come back to a boil and then continue the boiling process for an additional 20 minutes, uncovered. What I ended up doing, however, was reducing the heat to low (after having the water be brought back to a boil), covering the pot, and then leaving the heat on for what I thought was 20 minutes. Instead, I quickly woke up--six hours later--to find the happy cooking accident I alluded to at the beginning of this post: a very rich and tasty homemade chicken broth. Thankfully, and very luckily, nothing had boiled over and since the lid was covered at least there was still enough water to prevent the pot from dry cooking.

No matter the route you end up taking, once the stock has finished strain the stock and discard all the chicken pieces and aromatics that have done their work during the cooking time. As quickly as  you can, cool down the stock (at the start of the post, I put the container in a bowl of cold water and sat that by an open window); do not immediately stick this in the fridge as, especially in large batches, the heat can cause the fridge to overwork.

If you have to head out to work, as I had, and the stock is still warm, lightly cover (i.e., do not lock) the container with the lid and leave it in the fridge to finish cooling down. This stage is important as you do not want any bacteria growing in the stock you worked so hard to make. 24 hours later--if you have not already used all the stock by then--you should have a layer of fat that has risen to the surface. Scoop this out with a spoon and feel free to strain the stock as you use it. As you use the stock, consider its viscosity; the thicker it is, the better you should feel in knowing you prepared the stock correctly (the collagen from the bones turns into gelatin which adds to the thickness and body of the stock). And now, you should take comfort in knowing that if ever you need chicken stock, you will have some on hand for a short while! (In addition, take note of this added money value bonus, as stocks purchased in the supermarket, though good in taste, are both quite expensive and not homemade!)

For additional images of breaking down the chicken and making the chicken stock, click here.

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