Sunday, September 1, 2013

Chicken Stew

Sorry for the absence, but I've been in DC for the past few month and was leeching internet from anywhere I could- which basically meant that I rarely had internet. I cooked a bit, but nothing like I hope to be doing now that I'm back in the great city of Austin. 

There's a lot I can muse about, but I'd rather skip it all and put in a plug for buying Whole Chickens. Until recently, I would buy Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, Leg Quarters, and Wings separately. Occasionally I would buy an entire Chicken to roast and would often try to make a Soup or Stew with whatever remained, but I was always left with too much food. Then I got smart and started butchering the Chicken first. 

So here's the deal, Whole Chickens are relatively cheap- I've seen them as low as $0.69 or $0.79 per pound at the Fiesta. The one I bought for this post was a staggering $2.49 per pound. I bought it at Central Market and the label said that it was free range, hormone free, antibiotic free, fed a vegan diet, and all of that good stuff. It was somewhere around $12 total. Expensive, I know, especially considering that you can get an already-roasted Chicken for $6 or so at any grocery store. But if you consider that conventional Chicken Breasts go for $2.99 a pound at most places and organic ones are usually $4.99 a pound, it begins to make more sense. I like my readers to draw their own conclusions, but I personally believe that if you can afford it, it's worth a few extra dollars to support better practices. And it tastes better.

In any case, conventional or otherwise, it's always cheaper to buy a Whole Chicken. From there, you should be able to butcher the bird into the following pieces:
  • Two Chicken Leg Quarters (Two Drumsticks and Two Thighs)
  • Two Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • Two Boneless Skinless Chicken Tenders (shown in one package)
  • Four Wings (Two Drumettes and Two Wings (shown in one package)
  • One Chicken Carcass (often including the Heart, Gizzard, and Neck) (not shown in picture) 

Because the parts of a Chicken freeze so well, I recommend wrapping them in Saran Wrap and freezing them together in a Ziploc bag. It takes practice to get the cuts right, but this was my second Chicken in the past few months and already I feel like they look as good as anything you'd get in the store. The trickiest part are the Tenders. I hadn't realized this at first, but they're directly underneath the Breasts. Ideally, you'd use a thin sharp knife. I use the Wusthof Classic 4" Boning Knife and highly recommend it, but any knife should be fine. Regardless of your knife, don't fight the bones. You're goal is not to cut through them, but around them. There is not a single cut that should require much force.

As for the Carcass, I recommend strewing it. This is one of the healthiest and best tasting recipes I will ever post. It requires a significant amount of time, but very little work and almost anything can be thrown in or substituted. As good as it is, this is not a meal for a date, because there are a lot of bones in it.

Chicken Stew

1 Chicken Carcass (plus Gizzard, Heart, Neck, or anything else that came with the Chicken)
4 Large Carrots chopped into largish chunks
1 Bunch of Celery chopped into largish chunks
0.25 c. Green Split Peas
0.25 c. Yellow Split Peas
0.25 c. Green Lentils
0.25 c. Red Lentils*
Pinch of Dried Parsley
Pinch of Rubbed Sage
Pinch of Rubbed Rosemary
Pinch of Dried Thyme
Pinch of Fennel Seeds
Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes**
Generous helping of Pepper
As much Salt as necessary to make the flavors pop (maybe one or two teaspoons???? I didn't count.)

In a large pot cover the Chicken Carcass (plus Gizzards, etc.) with Water and Spices. Salt generously. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for hours. Originally I was going to finish the whole stew in about 3 hours, but other things kept coming up, so it simmered for about 6 hours. It only gets better with time. With about an hour and a half left, throw in the Lentils. If you use Noodles or Rice, you might throw it in with 20 or 30 minutes left, you know how it is. With about 30-45 minutes remaining, throw in the chopped Veggies.  

Like I said, I challenge you to find anything unhealthy about this meal and it really is good. There's a rich and vibrant taste in it that you won't find in store-bought Chicken Broths. For those of you grossed out about eating a Gizzard or Heart, I sympathize, but the fact of the matter is that after 6 hours it's basically fallen apart and you won't see it or taste it. They add lots of good flavor and you have the joy of knowing that you didn't let any of the Chicken go to waste. As for the meat itself, the Chicken literally falls off of the bone. There's a lot of small bones, so you can't remove them before you begin eating, but if you don't mind spitting some out, the flavors are quite rewarding.

*Feel free to use more or less Lentils, all one kind or another, to use Rice or Noodles instead or in addition, there is no wrong answer.

**Use any combo of Spices you want. Curry it. Give it a Greek flair. Again, there's no wrong answer.

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