Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Home For Passover, Part One - Chicken Soup

The Jewish holidays tend to bring out the traditionalist in me. It's not that I don't take a few liberties, but mostly I prepare things as my Grandmother did. Some of these choices will piss off purists, not to mention my personal physician, but I don't care. The last thing I want is the shade of Sadie Gordon erupting from the ground like Fruma Sarah. And frankly, the stuff tastes like the tastes I recall from childhood.

We start with chicken soup, the soul of Jewish cooking. Sadie was a child of the shtetl, and a mother during the depression. Her choices deserve some respect. They also have the benefit of working. Backs, necks and feet were fine by her but you also need meat for chicken soup for the holidays. She'd use a whole chicken. I prefer the meat from thighs and legs, and they were on sale last week at Niagara County Produce. More than that, the leg/thigh pieces weighed in at 1.25 pounds a piece. Considering that most battery chickens weigh in at 3.5 to 4 pounds there was only one conclusion -- stewing hens!

I bought 1/2 dozen, three of which I left the skin on. My grandma insisted that this added flavor. So, I covered them by about 1 inch with water, brought them slowly to a simmer, and skimmed off the coagulated proteins rising to the top. When that phase ended, I added the vegetables. This is where the purist's heads will explode.

I peel veggies when making traditional stocks, but not for this. Heck, the experts cannot agree on whether the freshest stuff is better for stocks, or old and tired stuff. Some suggest that there are good nutrients near the skin. In my broke, college days I used to collect the skins of onions, peels of carrots and celery tops in the freezer for use in stocks. In this case it just works.

The veggies are scrubbed thoroughly with my Marvin the Martian vegetable brush. In addition to the usual mirepoix parsnips are added in an amount relatively equal to the carrots. The soup does a slow, SLOW, simmer for 1 1/2 hours at which time the chicken is extracted, the meat removed and the scraps and bones returned to the pot for another hour of simmering.

Some of the reserved meat will be returned to the final soup, and some used for chicken salad. The stock is strained and de-fatted, and for service fresh veggies (peeled this time) are added to the jiggly gelatinous stock and cooked until tender. Some of the chicken goes back in, as do the Matzo Balls that Trish made while I was sleeping.

The result? Something that Sadie would recognize and we love!

PS, yes there is some fat on the finished stock. It wouldn't be chicken soup without some -- but then there is the issue of schmaltz. . .

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -