Thursday, August 02, 2007

Taking Stock, and the resultant Chicken Enchiladas

Sunday 29 July

We had run out of frozen chicken broth and were making do with frozen veal stock cubes, which qualifies as a household emergency (okay, it's an odd household). So on Saturday we settled in to make a new batch.

Barbara is the chicken soup maven around here, but it has nothing to do with her Jewish heritage. Her mother's chicken soup was watery and unseasoned, and the soup and chicken we got on Friday nights while on excavation in Israel was appositely known as "wrung out of the kibbutz laundry." Instead, she was inspired by the Japanese cult classic Tampopo, where a hero rides out of the West and shows Tampopo how to make perfect broth for her noodle shop. The big secret was that the soup should simmer at the lowest heat, and it really works.

We like to make a large stock of broth here in the Department of Redundancy Department, and freeze it for continual use. So when we debone any raw chicken, whole or in parts, we put the mainly-defleshed bones, necks, backs, and wingtips into a freezer bag. When the stock of frozen broth runs low, we get out the bag, which now has a couple of pounds of bones in it, defrost it, and prepare it in the following manner.

A bag of raw chicken bones (about two chickens' worth)
cold water to cover and float them a bit
1 onion, peeled and quartered
celery leaves from one bunch of celery
a bay leaf or two
an odd number of whole black peppercorns (pure superstition - it can be as few as 3 or as many as 7)
a big sprig fresh parsley and/or thyme, if you have it; if not, never mind.
Note: no salt. You only add this later, depending on what you're making out of the broth.

The cooking method is essentially the same as that for the roasted chicken carcass that goes into Garbage Stew.

Put all the ingredients in a soup-pot and bring it to a low boil very slowly over medium heat; then immediately turn it down to the lowest heat possible and let it simmer (one bubble, then another - that's how slow it should be). This will prevent scum from rising to the surface, but even if it does, don't worry - you'll take care of that later. Let it simmer at least 2 hours, though it can go for 4 or 5, until it's a nice golden-green color. Then let it cool until it's handleable.

Now, process it for use and storage. Place a colander or sieve over a big bowl (ideally with a pour spout), and pour the broth through the colander. Put the bowlful of strained broth in the refrigerator, to deal with tomorrow. When the detritus in the colander is cool enough, pick over the bones and remove any edible meat, plus the soup onions (delicious, if a bit limp). You can put this stuff in some of the broth for soup, or chop it up for chicken salad or enchiladas (as in this case).

The next day, all the fat will have risen to the top of the bowl of broth and solidified, so you can skim it off and either throw it away or freeze it too, for later use as schmaltz. Underneath the layer of fat glimmers the clear soup - it may even be a bit gelled. Pour or ladle it off into 2-cup-sized plastic storage containers for freezing. Have lots of containers ready, but you needn't use more than 5 or 6. The way to do this is to pour the first container about 3/4 full of broth. Do the same thing with the next one, and the next. When the broth is beginning to run low, don't fill up a new one, but top up the containers that already have broth in them to 5/6 full. There may be some dark solid stuff toward the bottom of the bowl; if you're a purist, you can throw this away, though we usually store it separately and find some use for it.

Once you've got 5 or 6 containers of broth in your freezer, you can use as much or as little as you like, whenever you like. You can melt 2 or 3 at once for a meal of tortellini in brodo. Or you can pop out a still-frozen one and let it sizzle in a hot wok for a couple of seconds to moisten and steam your stir-fried broccoli, then put it back in its container and into the freezer again. And you can start stockpiling raw chicken bones in the freezer bag for your next bout of homemade stock.

Oh, and the resultant enchiladas were what we ACTUALLY had for dinner.

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