Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stock Scum or Chicken Foam

We had a lively debate over at about the properties of the scum floating on top of stock and whether it really needs to be skimmed. I bravely volunteered to taste the scum during my next stock making, which happened to be the poaching liquid for yesterday's Succulent Chinese chicken. There were predictions it would taste off, bitter, pollute the soup with nasty flavors. I was concerned that it was perhaps a lot of nutrition being skimmed off.

At any rate, I skimmed it off dutifully and tasted it. Pardon the cliche but it tasted like chicken. No off flavors that I could detect however I'm not a super-taster. I am also not someone who is so revolted by the looks of something it translates into how I taste it (generally). To me, ugly food can taste good. I think I get this from my Mom through early childhood training. Our food was rarely pretty or especially appetizing to look at. Sometimes it was pretty awful looking and on occasion, it tasted pretty awful too. Mom was an experimental cook, as I am, but during a time when people first started experimenting with soy and stuff like that. I'll never forget those awful green soy/cashew burgers she made once.

The stock scum forms really early in the stock making process, like before a boil even starts so I doubt that it involves marrow and good stuff. It's just proteins that decide to clump together. Probably in the same way that beach scum forms. Perhaps it is the precursor to life! Amino acids bumping into one another, one day forming a simple organism.

At any rate the scum didn't taste off at all. No bitterness, no nastiness, just good old chicken flavor bundled into an unappealing looking gray, floating scum. Or I guess if we want to be more gracious we could call it "chicken foam".

So, if you're not overly concerned about the look of your stock, don't skim.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Benefits

Looking back I am often surprised by how my health has improved since I changed my diet. I had a boat-load of things going wrong with me and felt like I was deteriorating faster than I should be at my age (just turned 50 this year).

Here's a list of things I suffered before going "paleo-ish":

IBS, horrible intestinal cramping
Painful joints (ribs, even feet, fingers, wrists, knees, shoulders... everything)
Muscle spasms in the neck
Bursitis in the hips
Every so often, my eyelid would turn into an inner tube (swell to enormous size)
Post nasal drip
Migraine headaches (rarely)
Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis (which I was diagnosed with)
Brain fog (poor memory and thinking)

But I stumbled onto gluten as a possible issue, was tested by Enterolab and found out I react to both gluten and casein (in milk). I had already been on the Atkin's diet to lose (and maintain) my weight but it was pretty clear that I needed to make some changes to improve my health. After figuring out the gluten issue I went on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) but found it was awfully fussy. Eventually I realized that it was very similar to a "paleo" diet and just switched. Many of these symptoms went away never to return. Some come back if I reintroduce dairy (the mucus related issues and muscle spasms). I don't ache in every joint now, I haven't had any attacks of rib pain when breathing like I did.

Not everything is 100% perfect, I still struggle with my intestines. It seems like there are a lot of foods that irritate my gut and perhaps there is something else going on down there. But I am no longer having 7-15 painful moments in the bathroom every day. I got the nerve to stop taking the meds I was taking for my Ankylosing Spondylitis and the pain didn't return any worse than it was with the meds. Most of the time I can sleep through the night without waking up with back pain. Most of my joints are pain free, just a few give me trouble and only sporadically.

No more mysterious awakenings with my eyelid looking like a spare tire.

The brain fog was the worst. I felt like I was getting Alzheimer's sometimes. I just couldn't seem to retain new information. After going off gluten that cleared up pretty quickly and I felt like someone had given me back 20 IQ points I used to have.

Fatigue is better, although I'll probably never bristle with energy. There are good days and there are not-so-good days.

Perfect Cold Chicken

It's still Chicken Month.

What's better than a salad with moist, tender chicken in it? But most of the time when I put left-over chicken in the salad, it's kind of dry and overcooked. I have found the right way to make sure the chicken is perfect for left-overs, you must poach it gently!

Succulent Chinese Chicken

This recipe is sheer genius. Not only is it incredibly easy but you can both eat and drink your chicken. The poaching liquid is a nice, if somewhat delicate, chicken broth. I'm going to use it to make a stronger broth. I have 2 gallon sized freezer bags full of chicken bones and gibblets and I'll use them, with this broth, some onions, garlic, carrots and celery, to make a stronger broth tomorrow. It'll lose its Chinese characteristics but gain a lot more flavor.

It was easy to pull the meat off the bone and put into a big container for later use. I saved the bones, of course, for stock. The skin I'm going to try broiling and see if I can get it nice and crispy. Flabby, poached skin isn't my idea of a good thing. So everything used except the cluck!

Now, what to do with that lovely moist chicken?

I would suggest making a nice salad. Here's how I did mine today:

Approx. 1 Tbl of bacon drippings
About 1 Tbl of rice vinegar
A touch of your favorite sweetener (Stevia, honey, splenda) to equal about 2 tsp of sugar.

Microwave the bacon drippings until they become liquid. Briskly stir in vinegar and sweetener.

I used these things in my salad:

Green onion
Mixed baby greens with herbs
Black olives
Some dehydrated onion for crunch
Succulent chinese chicken (from above)
Bacon dressing

It is wonderful! In particular the dressing really goes well with the chicken.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Month of Poultry

Perhaps you can tell from my recent postings but I've been on a poultry binge. I decided to eliminate red meat for a month (mostly) and see if it changes anything. So far no changes in health detected. And I do love chicken... probably more than red meat.

My enthusiasm about spatchcocked chickens brought about a pointer to a link for Golden, Crisp Chicken Cooked ‘Under a Brick’.

It includes details on how to partially de-bone the chicken. In this case you remove the backbone, the breast bone (keel bone) and cut the chicken in half. Then you pare away the rib bones. Again, not really all that difficult. Be careful though. Working with chickens my fingers get very cold and a little clumsy. They also have you chop off the ends of the legs and that seemed kind of dangerous to me. I think next time I'll just loosen the skin from the bone like Jacques Pepin does. It kind of pulls back when it cooks and makes a nice handle. It looks cool.

I think it took me all of about 10 minutes to prepare the chicken and you have to realize I'm pretty new to this. I think once a person was experienced it be maybe a 5 minute chore.

Messy though, I dirtied up a large cutting board 2 knives and my kitchen scissors. Had to clean up the counter-top too (which really needed it anyway).

One again, all the bones and innards get shoveled into a freezer bag and will be used for chicken stock once I get 2 bags worth full.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Get a cast iron skillet

As both my readers know, I have had a couple of tutorials displaying meals that are started on the stovetop and end up in the oven. To do that you need a nice non no-stick, metal pan and I can think of nothing better than cast iron for the job.

I picked up my pan at Bed, Bath and Beyond for around $16. I believe you can also get them at any store with a large camping department. Don't get one with the raised grill things on the bottom.

Now the secret with cast iron is that you shouldn't ever really wash it. I use paper towels to clean the gunk out of mine. Sometimes I dump some coarse kosher salt in and rub it into spots with the paper towels. Or I take a metal spatula and scrape off anything that isn't coming off with rubbing. I put a light coating of oil on it and tuck away the pan. I don't use this pan for soupy, saucy things.

Every now and then, especially if the pan is getting sticky spots. I put a good coating of oil on it and stick it in the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. That "seasons" it.

The brand I found was Lodge but I'm sure brand doesn't matter much. I have a cast iron dutch oven too, but haven't used it yet.

The Ultimate Skeptic Versus Stainless Steel

I am the ultimate skeptic. I don't believe in much. When I hear fantastic claims I might smile and nod but inside I'm going, "Yeah, sure. Whatever you say. Ummmm hummm." So whenever I saw those stainless steel bars of soap you're supposed to wash your hands with to get rid of stinky garlic smells, I always thought, "There's a sucker born ever minute".

But underneath that hard crusty skeptical exterior there's a little girl that believes in magic, unicorns, Djinni's, frogs that turn into princes, wizards who hurl lightning bolts from their fingers and so on. Every now and then I succumb to my desire to find magic in the world and buy something that over promises, usually it's in the form of nutritional supplements.

Ok, this time it wasn't longevity in a bottle I bought, but a stainless steel garlic press. I've been disappointed with garlic presses in the past, they just didn't work well. But I was assured this one was a really good one, it had rave reviews on Amazon. A number of people mentioned you could rub your stinky garlicky fingers on it after working with the garlic and it'd remove the smell.

So the press came in the mail and yes, it presses garlic very nicely. I had to try, even though I didn't actually need garlic for anything. But after cleaning it my fingers stunk (or smelled good, depends on your point of view I suppose). So feeling a little foolish I took the garlic press to the sink and rinsed it, and my hands rubbing my stinky fingers against it.

I dried my hands and sniffed...

There was NO garlic smell! It absolutely does work. I walked around the house in stunned disbelief. There is magic in the world!

Now please excuse me while I go and try to faith heal, commune with long dead ancestors, try to hurl a lightning bolt from my fingertips, and look for a Unicorn!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Flatten that Chicken!

I'm excited. I have found something I really love. It is thrifty and delicious. It is butterflied or spatchcocked chicken.

Basically what you do is buy a whole chicken and flatten it. It isn't difficult at all, but it is a bit messy. Be sure you save everything you remove from the chicken and freeze it for making a good bone stock later on. And I mean everything, giblets, neck, breastbone, backbone. After you eat some chicken, save the bones!

I bought two chickens at Costco, .99 cents a pound. Compare that to $2.99 a pound cut-up fryer from Trader Joe's. What a deal.

Here's a tutorial of how to "spatchcock" a chicken, complete with pictures.

Ok, the price savings is nice but there are other benefits:
  • More surface area: It is great for holding onto any sort of coating, like... ummm... a mustard crust perhaps?
  • Faster cooking time: A whole chicken might take an hour or more to cook. A flattened chicken takes 30-45 minutes, depending on method and temperature.
  • More skin! I adore eating chicken skin but you miss out on a lot of skin if you buy pre-cut up chickens.
I caught a glimpse of Jacques Pepin on PBS recently making this Mustard Crusted Chicken recipe and I just had to try it. I've butterflied a few chickens, thanks to Alton Brown's wonderful show displaying the technique, and when I saw that this was first cooked in a oven-safe skillet (to brown up the back, I suspect) it looked to me like it was winner. I've had such great luck cooking steak in skillet, then oven, that I could imagine cooking a bird this way would be fantastic.

The only differences were that I removed the legs and wings, misunderstanding his instructions which should just have had me cutting through the meat so they cook faster. But it also made the bird fit into my cast iron skillet a little better.

This chicken recipe cooks in a mere 30 minutes in the oven and the smell is intoxicating. The taste? Wow! I'm going to be using this recipe over and over.

I was trying to play a computer game upstairs while this chicken was cooking but the smell totally derailed my concentration. I had to stop playing and come downstairs to be closer to my meal.