Friday, April 21, 2017

How to Make Great Chicken Stock

One of the main reasons that my food tastes better than it used to is that I use homemade chicken stock rather than store-bought. The collagen-rich stock adds richness and body to pan sauces and soups and generally raises the level of the underlying dish perceptibly.

I use a pressure cooker and you should, too. But my recipe works without it. Either way, it takes just five minutes to get the ingredients in the pot and little maintenance thereafter (none if you use a pressure cooker).

Chicken stock ingredients in pressure cooker - before and after cooking

Bobby Jay's Chicken Stock

I have a million recipes for chicken stock, but here's what I do:

Ingredients (you don't have to be very precise about any of these):
  • 2 1/2 lbs of chicken backs, 1 1/4 lbs of chicken feet (it's REALLY better if you can get feet, but otherwise use wings - much more expensive and a lot less collagen)
  • 1 medium onion, quartered (I like to keep the peel on, which gives a darker stock, but you can peel)
  • parsley (most importantly the stems, but I use the leaves, too) - about 10-15 stems
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp of black peppercorns
  • 1 or 2 whole cloves
  • A couple of medium carrots, cut into medium pieces
  • A couple of stalks of celery cut into medium pieces

Put everything into a pressure cooker, then cover with water. If you don't have a pressure cooker, use a big pot. Bring to a boil under pressure (or not, in which case you need to skim the impurities as the chicken comes to a boil), then cook at pressure for about 45 minutes or simmer slowly for a couple of hours -- three is even better -- making sure the chicken stays covered. You can also put it all into a slow cooker and leave it all day on low, but I prefer the pressure cooker.
NOTE: I don't use garlic or salt. which most recipes call for. I prefer to do that when making the dish in which the stock is used.

When done, strain, then reduce by 1/3. Let cool overnight, then take the fat off the top and discard (or use for schmaltz, if you're into it). 

Chilled stock with fat layer on, then removed, showing gelatinous stock
Next, put the stock into 1/3 cup muffin pans (I use silicone), and freeze. If you've done this right and uused chicken feet, this will have a gelatinous consistency.

Stock in 1/3 cup muffin pans
Store the 1/3 cup stock disks in a big (2-gallon if you can find them) ziploc bag for future use.
Frozen 1/3-cup chicken stock disks
To use, add enough water per disk to get to 1/2 cup, so 2 disks = 1 cup of very rich stock. You don't have to reduce, but my muffin tins are 1/3 cup so it fits if reduced by 1/3. If you have different units to freeze in, adjust accordingly. You probably will have about 18 disks, i.e. 6 cups of frozen stock, or 9 cups of stock once diluted. 

You can also freeze the cooled stock (reduced or not) in freezer grade ziploc bags. Put a cup or two into a quart bag, then gently squeeze out as much air as possible and lay on its side in the freezer.
Homemade stock is so precious that when I am making a recipe that calls for a huge amount of it, such as chicken soup or chicken in the pot, I use homemade stock for half and Swanson's for the remaining half. Totally fine.
Of course, you don't have to reduce or freeze the stock at all. You can use it right away or store it in the fridge for a few days. You're going to boil it anyway when you use it.

Dark stock option: if you want a dark stock, you can roast the bones, carrots, onions and celery in a hot over for an hour or so and then use all (adding the parsley, pepper and cloves) as above. It will be less gelatinous but have stronger taste. I generally don't do this for chicken, but do for turkey stock.

Try it. But seriously, get a pressure cooker; it makes your stock better and faster, and lots of other things, too. And today's pressure cookers are totally safe, despite what your grandmother may have said.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Passover 2017 -- Still Mostly Sephardic

Once you have a successful formula for a traditional meal, be it Thanksgiving or the Passover Seder, you don't want to mess with it too much, because people expect and, hopefully, hope to find last year's favorites this year. So my seder this year was a lot like last years's with changes here and there.

Thus, the great bulk of the seder consisted of Sephardic/Mediterranean dishes from a large array of countries: Syria, Morocco, France, Italy, Iran,  Israel and Greece, As usual, the main exception was my sister-in-law's stupendous matzoh ball soup, returning to the table after an enforced absence due to illness in 2016.

We started with my go-to Burnt Eggplant with Tahini, from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, always a crowd pleaser. This year I added the optional bits of fresh cucumber, which added texture but also mellowed out the bitterness of the tahini.

Burnt eggplant with tahini, pomegranate seeds and endive leaves
Another old favorite that had not been on recent year's rotation was Jacques Pépin's tapendade, made with a mixture of oil cured and Kalamata olives, presented with pain azyme (the fancy French name for matzoh).
There would have been a mutiny if I hand't served Mario Batali's Lemon-Scented Veal Meatballs, which I made with matzoh flour instead of white bread for the panade binder.
Lemon-scented veal meatballs

Another dish returning to the hors d'oeuvre portion of the evening was my very own creation: a spread made with smoked ricotta (you can use plain, with or without a little liquid smoke, if you can't find it), sun-dried tomatoes and lots of lemon zest, thinned with yogurt and olive oil to a smooth texture, with a little crushed red pepper thrown in.

Smoked ricotta, sun-dried tomato and lemon zest spread
As usual, the fifth appetizer was a concession to the Eastern European tradition: bites of gefilte fish procured from Citarella and served with homemade, head-exploding horseradish made by my mother-in-law. I just love this.
Gefilte fish bites with homemade horseradish
Also prepared for the cocktail hour: the iconic Bar Nuts from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook, mixed notes roasted and mixed with a spicy rosemary butter blend.

For the dinner, I made he best-looking hard-boiled eggs I have ever made, served over a dollop of spinach cooked for hours with red onions. Inspired by a recipe originally from Corfu in Greece that is in Joan Nathan's new book King Solomon's Table, which I haven't read (although a different one of her books is a source of the Bordeaux Style Haroset described below).

Hard-boiled eggs on spinach
Next came Heidi's matzoh ball soup that warms the heart and screams PASSOVER!

Heidi's great matzoh ball so
There followed Dja'jeh Zetoon b'Limoneh (Syrian Chicken with Lemon and Olives) and a Moroccan Lamb Tagine, made by Cousin Vicki from a recipe that I got at a cooking class in Paris: sweet and beautifully spiced. These dishes, which reprised our 2015 Seder, were supplemented by Iranian caramelized fennel from Sirocco, by Sabrina Ghayour (the fennel looked great but was horribly undercooked, not to make again).
wise from front: Persian rice, caramelized fennel, lamb tagine, Syrian chicken

My absolute favorite Seder dish, and the reason I started cooking Sephardic food for Passover, is Persian Rice, which is famous for its tahdig crust, which I learned to make at an Iranian cooking lesson. It is impressive but not really difficult if you know how.

Persian rice with crunchy tahdig, with fava bean and dill salad
One of the highlights any Seder, for me at least, is haroset, a fruit and nut spread that is symbolic of the mortar used by the Jews in Egypt to make bricks for Pharaoh, eaten as the famous "Hillel Sandwich" with bitter horseradish on matzoh and thereafter just eaten on matzoh because it tastes so good. This year I made two varieties, as I did last year: first, Joan Nathan's Bordeaux Style Haroset from Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cuisine in France, which I have used for several years. Second, Syrian Haroset from an on-line recipe by Jennifer Abadi, a wonderful confection of tart Turkish dried apricots, lemon juice, orange flower water and chopped pistachios.

Bordeaux Style haroset
Syrian haroseet with pistachios
For dessert, as with last year, my go-to Blueberry (and Raspberry) Tart from Food52 Genius Recipes, with alterations. I used Clotilde Dusoulier's pâte sablée made with gluten-free (and hence wheat-free) flour (Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free 1:1 Baking Flour) and I used potato starch in lieu of cornstarch (not Kosher for Passover) for the filling. A success, although the crust was not quite as crispy as the conventional wheat-based variety. Still, you can make a pretty good gluten-free tart for your friends who can't or just don't eat wheat.

Blueberry and raspberry tart 
Finally, for my ginger-loving mother, Fresh Ginger Cake from David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert, adopted for Passover by using matzoh flour, served with crème fra îche. Another repeat from 2016.
Ginger molasses cake 
Well, not quite finally. At the last moment, I decided to make coconut macaroons, and used the interesting recipe found in Food52 Genius Recipes, which uses coconut chips in lieu of shredded coconut, resulting in an interesting craggy appearance and texture.
Macaroons, some with chocolate, and closeup
And that was it! At least until next year.

Happy Passover!

Bobby Jay

For convenience, here is a list of the sources for the dishes that made up the meal.

  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.
  • Tapenade: Jacques Pépin, Essential Pépin.
  • Lemon scented veal meatballs: Mario Batali, Food Network. Caution: the recipe calls for 4 lemons; 2 are more than enough.
  • Bar Nuts: Michael Romano, The Union Square Cafe Cookbook.
  • Bordeaux style haroset: Joan Nathan, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.
  • Syrian style haroset: Jennifer Abadi, blog Too Good to Passover.
  • Dja'je zetoon b'limoneh (chicken with lemon and olives): Jennifer Abadi, A Fistful of Lentils. 
  • Persian rice, Cooking lesson by Jennifer Abadi, favas from Louisa Shafia, The New Persian Kitchen
  • Caramelized Fennel: Sabrina Ghayour, Sirocco.
  • Fresh ginger cake, David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert.
  •  Blueberry tart: Kristen Miglore, ed., Food52 Genius Recipes.
  •  Coconut Macaroons: Kristen Migliore, ed., Food52 Genius Recipes