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Whole roast chicken, taters, gravy, chicken stock. And Next Day Chicken soup.

I left home not knowing how to roast a whole chicken.  Nor how to make mashed potatoes.  Or gravy.

Let’s chalk that idiocy up to me not asking.   But I did humble myself in my 20s and 30s, finally consulting the Fanny Farmer cookbook my mom wisely gave me, “Cooks Illustrated,” the publication of the 1,000 step recipes of American’s Test Kitchen, numerous unreliable internet recipes for roasting poultry at high heat for the express purpose of testing out the home smoke alarm, Kathleen Flinn of “Kitchen Counter Cooking School,” and Mark Bittman of “How to Cook Everything“.

At some point along the way, from someone, I learned this most important piece of wisdom. This is given to you in paraphrase, as I did not commit the sentence  to memory:

After you roast about 30 or 40 chickens, you’ll be able to tell when the bird is done by looking at it and poking it a bit. 

And that’s it.  Just start roasting chickens and keep doing it until you get it the way you like it.  Honest to Pete, I don’t think there is any other way to learn to roast a chicken proficiently.  No Walmart temp tester is going to save you from Salmonella without giving you dried out cardboard chicken.  No recipe, no oven, no timer can give you the exact time and heat you need to roast that chicken.

I am currently enjoying Mark Bittman’s suggestions for roasting a chicken, in high heat, in a pre-heated iron skillet.

  I present to you now, the general process for making roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken stock and on the following day, chicken soup.  In pictures.

       

So, here it is:  Send child out to snip herbs.  Herbs currently available at our house are sage, rosemary and thyme.  Dress the bird and lovingly place in hot oven.  Take bird out when you think it is done.  Put it back in if it isn’t.  Meanwhile, peel potatoes and boil.  Take out chicken for the second time and transfer to plate.  Cover and let rest.  Observe that the temperature in the kitchen is now 85.  Ask son to make gravy for the first time.  Receive dire warning information from son that his carpool ride has vaporized and he now needs an emergency trip across town in less than 20 minutes.  Give him too much flour (we should have stuck with 1/4 c.), make a roux of the lovely chicken drippings, pour in hot milk.  Stir.  Drain taters.  Mash with milk and sour cream, season with salt and pepper.   Serve the potatoes in a bowl and put the pot in the sink to soak.  Why?  Because that’s what Grandma Helen did.  Take another phone call explaining to the other parent the new carpooling emergency.  Interrupt that call to receive call that carpool ride is back on track.  Serve dinner to hungry children.  Listen to children offer thanks.  Beg them to save some for Dad who will be home late.  Send lad out the door to catch his ride.  Send the troops in to wash the dishes.  Send some troops back out again because that is too many kids in the kitchen.  Tell the five year old I am going to make chicken stock and I will have to have the bones.  Look at him and see him nearly start to cry over losing his chicken bones.  Promise to him that I will save the bones for him.  Place chicken carcass in the cleaned tater pot, fill with water, simmer for 2 or 3 hours.  Don’t add carrots, celery and onion, I want to,  but I can’t spare the veggies for stock making this week.  Know that it will taste wonderful anyway.  Strain the broth through a tea towel and strainer.  Pour the golden broth into wide-mouth glass jars.  Save bones for the boy who wants to be an archeologist.  Sleep.  Next day make homemade noodles and use the fabulous chicken stock to make great chicken soup, even if there isn’t any actual chicken in the soup.

The End.  The End of That Chicken.

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Chicken Soup. Campbell’s Birthday Chicken Soup.

My kids ask for my homemade chicken soup for their birthdays.  Yep.

The ingredients list is fairly standard:  a chicken, water, onion, carrots, celery, peas, bay leaf, rice or noodles, salt and pepper.  But not one bit of Broth-In-A-Box.  The only tricky part is not cooking cluck-cluck too long.  Here’s the deal about chicken:  if you cook it a too long or too hot, the meat dries out to a gummy, rubbery texture, EVEN if it is in a big pot of water.  Boiling a chicken is even worse.

The best way to cook a chicken in water  is to use a heating method that ensures your chicken will never boil.  And, you have to actually check on the chicken.  This last time I did get sidetracked and it was a wee bit overdone.  The kids didn’t notice, however, and kept telling me how great it tasted.  I bet it will be the same for you.

You could choose to cook your chicken three ways:  on the stove in a big pot, kept very carefully at a slow, slow, slow heat–not bubbling.  You could use a very big crock pot on low for several hours (4 to 6) .  FInally, you could get a big oven proof pot and slow cook it in the oven.  I prefer using the stove top or crock pot–it’s just easier to check on it.  For years, I’ve done a stove top method with my big 12 qt. stock pot.  This time I decided to try out the crock pot since I had such good results with another recipe.  I still end up getting out a bigger pot for the stove  to mix everything up at the end, though.

I cook the chicken in water with a large amount of vegetables to add flavor.  The celery, onion, and bay leaf will get tossed out when the chicken is done, but I save the carrots.  I also leave the peel on my yellow onions when I add them to the pot.  It gives the broth a gentle yellow color.  One time I thought “More is Better!” so I added a bunch of peels and the water turned brown!!  Just a little goes a long way.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken–about 4 lb.

as much celery as you can stuff into the chicken–several stalks, cut in half

1 or 2 onions, quartered, leave the skin on

at least 1 lb. of carrots, but 2 lb. is much better.  Peel the carrots, cut off the tops, BUT LEAVE THEM WHOLE–it’s easier to get them out of the pot and then you can cut them with a butter knife before you mix the final pot

a few bay leaves

water

noodles or rice

frozen green peas

If you are using a crock pot, stuff your chicken with celery stalks and onions.  Place it in the pot, tuck  the whole carrots (or break them in half) all around, onions as well, toss in the bay leaf.  Fill up with water.  Set your crock pot on a low temperature and let it gently heat for several hours. Check on the chicken–you can use a meat thermometer to tell you when it is done.  Obviously, the juices will run clear.  If you try to lift it out and it falls apart, honey, it’s done.    After you’ve cooked about 20 chickens, you will figure this out by looking at the bird.  If you can find your instant read thermometer–it may have been borrowed for a science experiment–you can use this handy dandy chart from the USDA.

USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

  • Steaks & Roasts – 145 °F
  • Fish – 145 °F
  • Pork – 160 °F
  • Ground Beef – 160 °F
  • Egg Dishes – 160 °F
  • Chicken Breasts – 165 °F
  • Whole Poultry – 165 °F

OK–so you have determined that your chicken is done.  Remove it from the pot and let it rest on a plate until it is cool enough to debone. Meanwhile, strain out the celery, onion, bay, and carrots.  Set the carrots aside.  You can ask one of your kids to cut the carrots because they will be tender enough that a butter knife will do the trick.  My kids love doing this part of the job.  Deboning a chicken isn’t hard–just pull off the meat.  Cut it into smaller pieces if you desire.  Let it sit on the plate, though, and as it cools a bit, the gelatin and juices will congeal.  All of that is GOOD STUFF.  Don’t throw out the flavor!

Meanwhile, pour your beautiful broth into a big dutch oven or other very large pot.  Sometimes I like to strain the broth by pouring it through a big colander lined with a thin cotten towel.  This will remove the little brown sediments from the chicken bones–but honestly, they won’t hurt anything and it does make a mess to strain it.  Don’t fret–just enjoy your broth.  You can cook your noodles in this broth if you like.  I think a 12 to 16 oz package would do the trick.  I like to cook up 1 to 2 cups of brown rice for our soups.  When the noodles (or rice) are close to done, add in a 12 oz. bag of frozen petite green peas and your carrots.  When the peas and pasta or noodles are about done, stir in the chicken.  You may need to add more water, of course. Finish heating your soup and generously flavor with salt and pepper.

This will make quite a bit of soup.  Save one lovely jar and take it to a friend.

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