When we go grocery shopping, we try to remember to eat first. If we forget, or if it’s not convenient, then we’ll be hungry by the time we get to the checkout line. And this means we’ll end up noshing on the rotisserie chicken we bought for our dinner well before we arrive home. Oh, heck, we’ll open the darn thing while Ned is still pulling out of the parking space and eat hunks. Good thing Ned keeps paper towels in the car.
Inevitably couples form familiar eating routines. For example, if we have a can of mixed nuts on hand, I’ll get all the varieties which don’t appeal to my husband. As I pick out the brazil nuts or the pecans, I’ll tell him I never met a nut I didn’t like…which is why I married him. His retort is never PG 13, so let’s draw the curtain over his inevitable guy-type response, the one where he always sounds like his brother or Dave Barry imitating Ice T.
THE FIRST ACT
With that baked chicken, we know our parts quite well by now. He prefers breast meat and thighs. Yeah, yeah…never mind. I like the oysters found on the back, but in the car it’s simpler to pull off a drumstick for myself and strips of white meat for Ned. Later, when we’ve gotten home and put the groceries away, dinner is some kind of salad and further pieces of that poor bird we ravaged in the car.
Since there are only two of us, that leaves a fair amount of meat to contemplate. Sometimes, say when my fatigue is the main thing on the menu, I simply toss the container into the refrigerator, promising myself I’ll think about it tomorrow. Then I crawl into bed to recover from my big adventure at the grocery store while Ned heads upstairs to catch up on the hundred emails that came in while we were gone.
THE SECOND ACT
When these chickens became a regular feature in our lives, I was sometimes at a loss as to what to do with the remainders. When I stop to consider why we buy them at all, I realize it’s because of my energy-killing fibromyalgia. In the case of food shopping, if I’m to be included in the trip - or, gasp! actually drive myself
to the grocery store - I have to figure out some work-around which still allows us to eat that evening, once we’ve acquired next week’s victuals and stored them away..
Eating “out” is too expensive. Besides, the wait between ordering and eating is too tiring. Another besides: we don’t eat starches anymore. Locating cheap restaurant protein sans starches or sugary sauces is problematic out here in the woods. Thus our acquaintance - nay, our firm friendship - with rotisserie chickens these last few years.
You know how people say a friend is someone who knows your faults and likes you anyway? Well, that aphorism describes well my relationship with the chicken carcass the morning after. Usually I’ll ignore it for a day or two, but then Steps Must Be Taken.
The First Step is to extract all the remaining white meat for chicken salad. I wrap it snugly in a slightly damp piece of old linen towel (just the way they would’ve done in the old days for starched dress shirts that needed to “set” before ironing). Then it’s covered with waxed paper - or something a bit porous. Sometimes just leaving the package in a plastic bag open to the air is sufficient. Meat doesn’t keep as well if it’s deprived of oxygen. Just as you would do, it deteriorates more quickly.
With the breast meat set aside and decided upon, now we have all the rest of it to deal with. Usually All The Rest is a broken-looking thing. The wings, maybe a drumstick or a thigh plus the anonymous bits and pieces clinging to the back, especially those pocket oysters - my favorite part of any whole chicken. Stack ‘em up and there’s quite a bit of meat. Sometimes it’s enough for another meal but more often you’re left kind of a drumstick short of reality. This is when other leftovers come in handy. A few frozen shrimp, perhaps a hunk of ham or some smoked sausage?
Here’s where I’m going: more-or-less gumbo. In order to arrive, though, I have to rummage around to find the brown roux. If I’m out of roux, never mind. I’ll just make a poha pilaf with pecans and whatever and add the chopped bits of chicken. A good lunch for two.
On the other hand, if I do
have roux, then gumbo it is!Gumbo III - Almost-But Not-Quite The Real Deal
Meats: rotisserie chicken parts; peeled, raw shrimp if you have them, leftover smoked sausage or ham.
Veggies: sliced onion, chopped green pepper and celery, chopped or canned tomatoes.
Flavorings, etc: Chicken broth, Cajun spices, celery seed.
Essence of gumbo: a minimum of two tablespoons brown roux. Real Cajuns would use a half cup or more, but that’s way too much starch for us. It’s bad enough that the stuff is made with wheat, never mind using it in depth-charge amounts. I’ve tried making brown roux with rice flour. What can I say? Think of rice bread instead of a crusty sourdough roll. It’s like that…one of those better-than-nothing substitutions, but just barely so. By the way, if you don’t have time to make your own from bacon drippings, I hear tell you can buy roux now.
[The Christmas before she died, Shelagh made a jar of brown roux for me as my present. I laughed when she declared ruefully, "that stuff sure does smoke up the place. How do you stand it?". And then when she died so suddenly, I couldn’t bear to use it at all up…eventually I did, but as I spooned out the last little bit, the train carrying me away from her increased its speed...]
If there is any fat on the chicken, I render that to sauté the onions, green peppers and celery. Otherwise use bacon drippings or butter, maybe 3 tablespoons or so.
You can let the onion brown a bit if you want, but don’t let them darken enough to get bitter. While they’re cooking add whatever herbs you’re going to use. Store-boughten Cajun seasoning is fine; rendering it with the veggies kind of refreshes the flavors. Celery seed is good with all the meats/fish in this gumbo.
Oops, back up here: when the onions and celery are limp, that’s the time to put in the okra. You can leave them whole or slice them, but if whole, leave the cap on so the okra will stay intact. Cook and stir until the okra, onions and green pepper are a bit brown.
If you’re using fresh diced tomatoes (about three), put them in now and stir the dice around a bit, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, pour in the chicken broth and do it then instead. Then add the canned tomatoes and let it all simmer, covered, for about fifteen minutes.
A gumbo with fresh chicken would be done in a different order, but this is leftovers, so the meats are going to go in last. It’s a more introverted kind of gumbo, but nonetheless a good thing to do with parts of a rotisserie carcass.
Cut up the sausage or ham and add that to the simmering vegetables. Stir in the roux and mix it well through the pot. Let it simmer for a few minutes with the cover on.
Now add the chicken carcass, back, skin and all. If there’s any jelled broth in the bottom of the container, scrape that out into the pot. Don’t bother breaking up the pieces since you’ll be removing them in a few minutes. Push the chicken well down into the simmer; cover the pot tightly again. Make sure the heat is real low at this point and leave it barely simmering for about fifteen minutes. If the broth has reduced, add water, more chicken broth, or - even better - a jar of clam juice (you can find it in the soup section).
When the time is up, use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the chicken parts and skin. Put them into a bowl. Have the shrimp ready to add. If the shrimp is cold enough to take the gumbo off its simmer, turn up a bit. When the simmer begins again, immediately turn off the gumbo and cover it. Don’t take it off the heat. Here, you want to cook the shrimp until they’re barely pink and still firm. Overcooking, even if it’s just a minute or two, will make their texture unpleasant.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull off all the pieces and shreds of chicken you can find. Discard the skin and the bones. Any large pieces of meat should be cut into bite sizes.
Return the chicken to the pot and let it sit until you’re ready to eat. Traditionally this is served over rice, but we often eat it as is to avoid the starch. Sometimes, though, I’ll steam a small amount of poha to go in the bottom of each bowl. It’s a not-quite rice for a not-quite gumbo.
Even dumbed down like this, Gumbo III is mighty fine on a cold evening.
Oh, dear. The recipes are starting to stack up. This one started out to be about Curried Chicken Salad, but I bogged down on the middle pieces.
But even before that, I said I’d tell you how the vension ribs turned out. Of the latter, I’m still contemplating how it could have been improved…I’ll write on that first. And the curried chicken salad is worth
eating, so I’ll get to it right soon.
I spent a long time today - too long - looking at meat grinders on Amazon. I’d really love to just grind up that venison haunch. More on haunch at a future date also.
Chow mein, y’all!