Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chicken Stock, Broth and Soup

It's that time of the year when I begin using up the chicken stock I made previously whenever I had spare chicken parts or a carcass from a roasted bird handy.  I rarely let chicken in any form go to waste as I know I'll need stock for a sauce, or like now, broth for a hearty chicken soup during the cold Chicago winter.   And as my supply is already running low, today I'm making fresh stock from chicken wings, which are really the best for this purpose.  But before I go on, I thought I would clarify a few terms, sorting out stock from broth and other commonly confused items.

Chicken stock is a liquid in which chicken bones and vegetables have been simmered for the purpose of serving as an ingredient in other dishes. Chicken stock is not usually served as is, as it has been reduced and has a very strong flavor. Stock can be made with less desirable parts of the chicken, such as feet, wings, necks or just bones:  the higher bone content in these parts contributes more gelatin to the liquid, making it a better base for sauces.

Chicken consommé is a more refined chicken stock. It is usually strained to perfect clarity, and reduced to concentrate it.  I usually just make stock, but if you want to impress, I discuss below how to create a nice clear consommé.

Chicken broth is the liquid part of chicken soup. Broth can be served as is or served as soup with noodles.  Broth is usually more mild than stock, does not need to be cooked as long, and can be made with meatier chicken parts.   Chicken bouillon or bouillon de poulet is the French term for chicken broth.  Chicken broth can be made from chicken stock.

Broth made from Carcass of Roasted Chicken
Mirepoix is a French term for a combination of onions, carrots, and celery. Often, when making stock, the less desirable parts of the vegetables (such as carrot skins and celery ends) are used since they will not be eaten.

While I use my stock for a wide-range of dishes, in the winter I'm most often making chicken soup, which is a family favorite all across the world.  It may well be the ultimate comfort food. Its soothing aroma and rich flavor often brings back memories of mother or grandmother making a pot and bringing it to you when you were not feeling well. You may be surprised to learn that the Chinese consume more chicken soup than any other culture. Chicken soup is also firmly entrenched as a traditional food in Jewish culture.  It's served in some of the world's finest restaurants and is also considered a peasant food, since it can be frugally made from parts of the fowl which are not necessarily meaty but contain intense flavor, such as the neck, back, wings and the bones. After the meat of a whole chicken has been used for one prime meal, the carcass can be transformed into an equally sumptuous and satisfying soup.  My own mother often did this and I do the same.  You can get so much good food from one chicken.  Is it Jewish penicillin?  Perhaps not scientifically speaking, but it does comfort and provides necessary sustenance and hydration while helping to stimulate the appetite.

Julian's Chicken Soup and Salad
Making Stock or Consommé (adapted from an original recipe by Sara Moulton)
5 pounds chicken wings
2 medium onions, quartered
2 small carrots, halved
2 celery stalks, halved
4 rinsed and dried fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
2 rinsed and dried fresh thyme sprigs
1 Turkish bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

As I noted above, you can use most any part of the chicken, raw or previously cooked to make a stock.  However, if you are just looking to restock your freezer with fresh chicken stock or consommé, I find it best to purchase chicken wings.  They really are an ideal combination of bones, skin/fat and meat to make the perfect golden nectar, and they are inexpensive to boot.

I typically rinse the wings and place them in a large pot.  Cover with cold water about 2-3 inches above the wings.  Starting with cold water promotes the extraction of collagen, which may be sealed in by hot water.

The stock should be simmered gently, with bubbles just breaking the surface, and not boiled. If a stock is boiled, it will be cloudy and if we want a golden consommé to serve our guests, ensuring it is very clear is important.

Start by bring the mixture just to a boil over high heat.  Simmer the chicken stock without adding any vegetables skimming and discarding the surface scum using a slotted spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, skimming frequently, for 20 minutes before adding a rough cut mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) and the remaining seasonings. 

Salt is usually not added to the stock, as this causes it to become too salty, since most stocks are reduced.

Simmer for 2–3 hours more. 

Remove from heat and when cool enough to handle the pot, strain out the solids.

To remove the fat, place the stock in the refrigerator overnight or for several hours until the fat has solidified and can be easily removed with a spoon. Otherwise follow these instructions to remove the fat.

Return the stock to a pot and simmer until reduced by one third, about 30 minutes.

Divide the stock among several freezer safe containers or molds.  I typically use a Wilton Easy Flex Silicone Four Cavity Mini Loaf Pan, as each holds two-cups of liquid and once frozen, the golden bars are easily removed, wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer.  Two cups is often just the amount of stock I need to make a sauce or soup, remembering that this has been reduced and is strong in flavor (to make soup you must add water.)  Chicken stock can be frozen and kept several months, although at my house we have trouble keeping around that long!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chinese New Year Sweet and Sour Appetizer Meatballs

A last minute invitation reminded me of this party classic, which is quick and easy to prepare.  We had been invited to a dinner party (for hot pot) on Sunday to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  Having a limited repetoire in this style of cooking and knowing my dinner companions would be largely Chinese, I selected Pear and Ginger Crisp, as they enjoy ginger and pears yet not having to compete with authentic Chinese cooking.  Then on Saturday while pondering how much crisp to make, we received a new invitation for that evening for yet another New Year celebration.  As I never like to go empty handed, I looked around my kitchen to see what I might prepare on short notice.

Thankfully, I had cocktail meatballs on hand, as well as bell peppers and the other basic items needed to quickly pull together this dish .  I modified my usual recipe to add some Chinese crushed red pepper paste, which gave this sweet and sour dish a little kick. 

It took me under an hour to prepare and ready it for transport.  Thankfully I have a crockpot with a lid strap and warming jacket that was kept the warm until we arrived and then heated throughout the evening. 

If you are looking for a colorful dish good for large gatherings, give these meatballs a try.

4 pounds  meatballs, frozen, cooked -- or fresh small meatballs if you prefer
28 ounces pineapple chunks in juice
         (typically one small and one large can, natural juice preferred)
1 1/4 cups  chicken broth
3/4 cup  vinegar
1 tablespoon  catsup
1 teaspoon  chili paste -- optional
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup  cornstarch
8 green onions -- thinly sliced
1 large  red bell pepper -- cut into 1" squares
1 large  green bell pepper -- cut into 1" squares

Bake the frozen cocktail meatballs according to the package directions or make your own from scratch as you prefer.

Drain the pineapple reserving the juice.  Set the pineapple aside.  Combine pineapple juice with 1 cup of the cihcken broth, vinegar, soy sauce and catsup in a large sauce pan. Add the optional chili paste if you prefer a little spice in the dish.  Heat over medium high until hot.  Stir in the sugar and until combined.  Mix the remaining quarter cup of chicken broth with the cornstarch in a separate dish until combined.  Stir into the hot broth mixture until thickened and the mixture just begins to boil.  (If you prefer youu can refrigerate the sauce at this stage for use later.)  Add the onion and peppers and cook for another minute or two to heat through. Stir in the reserved pineapple chunks and pour sauce over prepared meatballs.  Keep warm until ready to serve.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shrimp De Jonghe - A Chicago Classic

This Chicago specialty is a casserole of shrimp blanketed in toasted bread crumbs in a garlic infused white wine (or sherry) and butter sauce. It can be served as an appetizer or a main course and comes with an interesting pedigree that will fascinate your dinner guests as well as delight their pallets.

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the dish originated in the late 19th or early 20th century at the De Jonghe Hotel and Restaurant.  The De Jonghe brothers and their two sisters had emigrated from their native Belgium to Chicago only a year before the 1892 World`s Columbian Exposition, their sights set on making a living in the New World.  The recipe is usually attributed to the owners, brothers Henri, Pierre and Charles DeJonghe, however there has been speculation that the dish was actually created by their chef, Emil Zehr.

De Jonghe Hotel Dining Room circa 1910
While the hotel and dining room are long gone, the dish lives on in at least a hundred restaurants throughout the Chicago area, not to mention numerous other restaurants around the country.  As such, there are many versions of the recipe and I  share mine with you below.  It is simple to make and always pleases.  For a main course I usually serve with some type of fried rice and a vegatable.  Have a good bread handy as people often want to dip up the sauce.

Shrimp De Jonghe
[Main course for two adults, or appetizer for four]

12 large shrimp/prawns
1/2 lemon
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine or sherry
salt and pepper to taste
8 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup of bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried chopped parsley

Preheat Oven to 400F degrees with rack arranged to high position (to aid in browning).

Clean, peel and devein the shrimp, removing their tales.  Arrange shrimp in an oven proof shallow cooking dish.  If using for appetizer arrange in individual ramikins.  Sprinkle with lemon juice and chopped garlic.  Pour over the wine or sherry and dot with half (4 Tbls) of the butter.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Melt the remaining half (4 Tbls) of the butter and combine with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.  Add the dried parsley and stir to combine. 

Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over prepared shrimp.  Bake on top rack of oven for 15 minutes or until shrimp is cooked through and bread crumbs begin to brown.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Beef Stew, is yours Bourguignon?

As Julia Child states in her introduction to the famous recipe, "Of the several types of beef stew in which the meat is browned, then simmerered in an aromatic liquid, boeuf bourguignon is the most famous." It is called bourguignon because it comes from the Bourguignons village in the north of France, the region famous of course for its burgandy wines.  As such it is a beef stew made with red wine.  Julia goes on to state "As is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon.  Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certianly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man..."

While Julia's recipe below is a stew that is traditionally served with boiled potatoes, I make my version in the American tradition and add the potatoes, carrots or other root vegetables during the last hour of cooking so as not to over cook them.  If I have other vegetables handy, I add those too.  After you've made beef stew by the recipe a few times, you'll know the basic techniques and you can add and subtract ingredients as you and your family enjoy this classic dish.

The most important elements when making any good beef stew are 1) brown the meat first using a better cut of meat such as chuck pot roast; 2) use an inexpensive but drinkable red wine; and 3) cook for 2-4 hours.  From these basics, you can improvise.  For example after browning my beef I typically add a roughly chopped onion, 2 chopped carrots and a couple stalks of chopped celery to deglaze the pan.  Then I add at least a half a bottle of red wine and let simmer for 10 minutes or so, before adding the beef to the pot, covering it well with half chicken broth and half water. 

If you'd like to hear from the master herself, check out the video of her making this dish on YouTube.

Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon
[Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon,  Onions, and Mushrooms]

One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.

Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).  Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.   Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.

Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.

Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.

Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.

Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.

Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.

Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Skim fat off sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.  If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ceramic Cook Tops

At our island home (Villa Morningstar) we were recently faced with the decision of which cook top to install.  The home has no access to natural gas although you can do bottled gas.  After looking over the options, we decided upon an electric range with a ceramic cook top.  The ceramic cook top is a glass-like cook top with electric heating elements under the surface.  Now before you say 'on no, you don't want an electric cooktop', please understand that these are not the electric cook tops your mother cursed.  (Note, we did not choose a ceramic induction cook top because of their high cost and our only occasional use of the home, but when we do start to spend entire winters in this home, I will be seriously considering the induction option.)

GE Profile Range with Ceramic Cooktop
at our home in St. Thomas, USVI
Electric cook tops traditionally received negative reviews because they were hard to control, taking forever to boil a pot of water and not cooling down quick enough when the cook wanted to reduce the heat.  

Flat ceramic electric cook tops come in a variety of sizes and have many features.  The clean-looking ceramic top now conducts heat rapidly. Within seconds the top is very hot and I have no trouble bringing a pot of water to boil as quickly as I do on my gas burnered cook top in Chicago.  In fact, on my GE Profile ceramic cook top, I find I rarely turn the burners more than half of the full temperature.  They simply get too hot and cook to quickly.  So if you are new to cooking on a ceramic cook top, I would suggest you keep the temps down at first and stay at the stove top while you cook until you become familiar with just how fast your surfaces heat.  Not all brands work as well.  These cook tops still do not cool down as quickly as gas, but this too is improved over the old coiled heating elements.

If you are making a new purchase, I suggest you also consider burner configuration.  On a ceramic cook top you cannot place pans and skillets much outside of the areas that are marked as the heating areas.  If you do, you risk cracking the (expensive) ceramic top.  So if you might want to use a griddle or other long pan, purchase a cook top with a 'bridge burner'.  If you enjoy canning food or need to bring other large kettles to boil, bring along your favorite pot to the store and fit it to the burner diagram.  Remember that any pot/pan/skillet or other cooking device must not extend more than 1/2" on either side of the marked burner on the ceramic top.  Also note that some burners have multiple burner markings and it is important you turn on the portion you plan to use so it closely matches your pot or pan size.

The materials and design of your pans and skillets is also important when using a ceramic cook top.  As the heat is transferred only when it touches the surface it is important to select pans and skillets that have a totally smooth bottom.  It also ideally should be stainless steel and, as noted above, the flat surface should closely match the size of the burner markings.  If you are using your old pans or skillets, note that it is also quite important that the outside be as clean as the insides.  Any burned on food or other dark markings will transfer to the cook top as it heats.  This does not permanently discolor the cook top, but it will require extra cleaning.  Finally, you should not attempt to use glass, ceramic, cast iron, copper or enameled surfaces for cooking on these surfaces.

The good news:  the surface is smooth and totally sealed, making cleaning easy.  The bad news:  you must use the manufacturers suggested cleaning solutions.  As just two manufacturers make most all ceramic cook tops, the cleaning routine is the same for most brands.  Cooking, particularly with pans that are discolored on the bottom, will transfer their brown color to your cook top and if  it's a white surface, this will be particularly noticeable.   However, this is easily cleaned by using Cerama Bryte brand cream cleanser suggested by the manufacturers, once the cook top is cool.  The same company also sells small, individual-use cleaning pads, which should be used instead other abrasive cleaning pads that may permanently scratch the surface.   Burnt on food can be cleaned off using a single edge razor blade, if used with care so as not to carve into the ceramic surface. 

Finally, while I enjoy cooking on the new flat surfaced cook top, I find you have to change the way you have traditionally cooked and cleaned in your kitchen.  For example, you cannot shake your pans bake and forth as you might be accustomed to doing, as it will scratch the surface. Stir with a spoon instead.  And as it is a totally smooth surface, you will find yourself temped to utilize the surface for other things while it is not in use for cooking.  Keep in mind it was not built to be a cutting board or even a surface you should sit items on when it is not in use. The surface is ceramic and quite hard, but is also fragile and will break if it receives a sharp impact.  It can be so hot that copper pans and aluminum foil melt (permanently adhering themselves to your cook top.)

If plumbed natural gas was an option, I would have considered that more seriously as I am accustomed to it.  However, with the open living style of our home and the constant island breezes, there are also drawbacks to an open flame.  As it is, I am enjoying our ceramic electric cook top and have adapted my cooking and cleaning techniques to accommodate the new system.  Good luck with your selection!