Chicken once, chicken twice ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

19 October 2010

Chicken once, chicken twice

Right before we went to NYC, John had gotten pretty excited about bistro cooking. We even threw down and bought both the Balthazar and the Bouchon cookbooks, both of which are awesome. The Balthazar book is a more practical, traditional cookbook, while the Bouchon book is so gigantic and styled that it almost belongs on the coffee table. Fortunately, the food more than makes up for any awkwardness in the kitchen.

The first thing we made was totally simple yet excellent roast chicken.

You guys probably know that John is vegetarian and I am not. However, John also wants to get better at various strains of cooking, so he was the driving force behind the chicken.

The Persian market supplied us with a halal bird, still sporting its neck and an array of pinfeathers: fascinating yet still pretty gross. After removing those, John salted and peppered the chicken inside and out, trussed it, and stuck it in a fully preheated 450F oven to roast. No basting; no nonsense. After about an hour, it was done. The end.

With my gargantuan breast of chicken (of which I ended up eating about half), I had excellent mashed sweet potatoes with garlic and mirepoix. This is totally easy and much better than any plain sweet potato mash. Yes vegetables! Vegetables win!

First, cook your sweet potatoes. I like to steam them, but you could also boil them, stab them all over with a fork and bake them, or even throw them in the microwave (also well forked, to avoid sweet potato explosion). For steaming: put a pot of water on to boil while you peel the potatoes and chop them into medium-small chunks. When the water boils, throw your potatoes into a steamer basket or insert, cover, and stick the business over the pan. Cook about 25 minutes, or until easily pierced by a fork. I like to call this stage "edible," myself.

In the meantime, make mirepoix. John likes to start this off by poaching a bunch of smashed, peeled garlic cloves in butter, a la Julia Child, but you could also just do a plain mirepoix with olive oil. In any case, heat your oil, smash your garlic, finely chop half an onion, a couple stalks of celery, and a carrot, and slowly cook all the veg until soft and lovely. Add some thyme or sage if that kind of business floats your boat.

When the potatoes are done and the veg are aromatic and excellent, it's time to mash. Add the potatoes to the veg, salt and pepper, and mash enthusiastically. Taste the finished mash before you add any more butter or oil; I find that the veg cooking oil is generally plenty.

After stripping all the rest of the meat off the bones, we made chicken broth. This one is super easy as well: put your stripped chicken carcass in a big pot with a chunked yellow onion, a handful of roughly chopped celery and carrot, and a bouquet garni, i.e. a bunch of herbs. We used parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf. Cover everything with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer. Use a slotted spoon to occasionally skim off any scum that rises to the surface. After a couple hours, behold! You now have excellent homemade chicken broth.

When the broth is done, skim any more visible fat and gack off the surface, then strain out the solids; we put ours in a full pot insert so we could just lift it out easily. You may also want to pour the resulting broth through a finer mesh strainer to eliminate any tiny bits and pieces. Then put the entire pot in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, a layer of fat will have risen to the surface and largely solidified; lift this off with your slotted spoon, and your broth is totally ready.

At this point, I poured the broth into just about all our storage containers and stacked them precariously around the freezer for later use. We are now well prepared for me to get the flu sometime in the next six months. Thanks, chicken carcass!

We had truly massive amounts of meat left over as well. While most of these also went directly into the freezer, I definitely had a great time eating as many bits and pieces as I could cram into a sandwich. This one had the end of the sweet potatoes, a bunch of greens, emmenthaler cheese, and some dijon mustard, all on a fairly gigantic ciabatta roll. With a big handful of tomatoes, everything was awesome.

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