Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Supermarket Rotisserie Chicken Redux

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.


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.


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 reading about 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!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Veal Stew in the Microwave, Interrupted

The way this dish turned out, it took about 15 minutes prep time and 20 minutes cooking time. You may be faster than I am, but a half hour ought to do even for a slow poke.

Most people add sour cream just before serving over noodles. I omitted the cream from my finished dish for the reasons below. And we don't eat noodles anymore. Saves further accumulations of "wheat belly" around our waistlines.

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So I bought these chunks of veal because they were on sale. "On sale" as in they were way cheaper than hamburger. I bought them even as my rational self nudged them away.

“You’re never going to cook those. You’re going to let them die of freezer burn. You know how tough that meat is.” Telling Rationality to shut up, I walked over to the produce section…lemons are a dollar each??

Oy vey! Well, lemon or green pepper, which will it be?

Lemon! I can freeze the skins for zest afterwards. Kiss the green pepper goodbye.

Lemon goes well with veal. So do lots of things, besides paprika. Capers, sherry, root veggies, sweet peppers…

Veal is versatile as long as the tough parts are never cooked at more than a simmer. Osso bucco is to die for, the very best of the tough veal dishes. But you’d have to sell an organ to be able to afford them anymore. So this is just one variation on a theme:

A pound or so of stewing veal. More, if you want.
Flour for dredging meat (I use rice flour. Wheat tastes better but it’s not for me)
Salt and pepper for flour (go easy on the salt)
Half a yellow onion, sliced
A couple of carrots, chunked up
A splash of sherry
Some chicken broth - maybe a cup?
Mushrooms, if you have them, cut up
Garlic, a few cloves
Lemon juice - use half the lemon
Herbs (a bay leaf? Some thyme? Basically anything that suits chicken suits veal)
Capers (you could toss in some finely chopped calamata olives if you don’t have capers on hand. You're looking to add some umami 'depth' here)
Peas, a half cup or so.

Cut the veal into the size chunks you like. Dredge with flour and let sit on cutting board while you heat the butter (or you could use lard or olive oil).

Melt butter on medium until it bubbles. Put in half the meat, shaking off extra flour, and brown. Remove to the ceramic pot you’ll be using in the microwave and repeat with the rest of the meat.

Add a little more butter or oil and turn burner to medium low. Add the onion slices, chunked up carrots, and the garlic cloves. You don’t want the onions to burn, you’re just trying to render them to bring out the flavor. Putting the carrots in gives them a kind of pan roasted flavor, too, and improves the dish. Tossing in the garlic cloves allows you to roast those without any effort.

Stir all this around every few minutes.

When the onions look translucent and golden (maybe ~ ten minutes?), take out the garlic. Add sherry, herbs, capers, and lemon. Turn up the heat briefly to boil off the alcohol. Add chicken broth. How much? Enough to cover the meat. A cup or so should do. Add lemon juice at this point, and squeeze out the softened cloves into the pot (if they're not quite soft, just chop them). Stir up the browned bits of flour from the bottom of the pan.

I remembered some dried shitake mushrooms so I put a handful in the pressure cooker for about 4 minutes and then chopped them and strained the broth. Added both to the saute pan...though you could say that maybe shitakes have too strong a flavor for veal with lemon and capers. I wouldn’t argue with you.

When this is bubbling, pour into the microwaveable pot over the meat and cover tightly.

Cook on HIGH in the microwave for about 2 minutes or so (remember veal is cranky; it doesn’t like high heat for long). Then turn it down to MEDIUM LOW (for my ‘wave, that’s 40%) and cook for ten minutes or so.

These times are all approximate. Your goal is to braise the meat till it’s tender. It helps to know what your microwave thinks “simmer” means.

After ten minutes, take out the dish and stir. See if the meat is tender yet. Mine wasn’t. Poke at the carrots. Still a bit too ‘crisp’ for stew.

I spied a past-due-date vine tomato sitting on the counter. Why not? Just one wouldn’t hurt. So I quartered it and put in the pot before covering and cooking again on forty percent for another ten minutes. During the last two minutes I added a handful of peas.

I haven’t checked it yet, except to see that the meat was done and very tender adn the broth had reduced. Exactly the way you want tough veal to end up.

As it turns out, however, the veal stew is destined for tomorrow. While the dish was cooking, a neighbor came to the door with a present: a plastic bag containing hunks of venison and some ribs.

After debating this sudden abundance of meat, the veal stew, now finished, was put away for tomorrow. Instead, we will have baked vension ribs with the leftover Hoppin’ John from yesterday.

I’m glad I had that extra lemon half handy for the ribs' sauce. So now they're baking at 300 degrees. The boned haunch is in a covered dutch oven out in the cold shed (it’s going to be 25 F tonight. That meat is nice and safe out there).

Next time, a recipe for barbecued venison ribs. Hey, when life hands you venison on a rainy January evening, go for it.

NOTE: Most of my recipes serve four people, even though there are only two of us left now. But Ned "works" at home (and boy! does he ever work). He stays busy so if there is no "jump in the mouth" leftovers for heat 'n' eat, he'll make do with cheese. Or peanut butter. Thus, I usually cook extras.

By the way, "osso bucco" means "bones in the mouth" -- or colloquially, "bones jump in my mouth" (at least that's what my Italian neighbor claimed it meant). Which osso bucco certainly does want to do. Or rather, that's what your mouth wants it to do.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Hoppin'John for a Happy New Year

Southerners eat black-eyed peas a lot. They also eat smoked pork frequently, and rice.

Growing up in the South, I got everything but the rice. My mother was from Ireland; rice and spaghetti (whoever heard of "pasta" back then?) weren't on the menu. If I, as the house cook, put them on, I had to also haul out the bag of potatoes for my Irish uncles. So mostly, we didn't eat rice.

Other than that, Mother loved soul food. Greens and fatback? Yum. Black-eyed peas? Sure, as long as you cooked some potatoes. Back then, black-eyed peas were mostly canned and not very appetizing. Sometimes Mother's friends would give us fresh ones -- they were like another food entirely from the canned variety.

We ate pork more frequently in its fresh variety than the smoked versions. Except for bacon, when we could afford it. However, American bacon was/is pathetic. Mostly we didn't bother except to make drippings.

So enough background already. Here's the deal on Hoppin' John: If you eat it on New Year's Day, you'll have a prosperous year. Beans are for prosperity, the rice for fertility, and the greens for color and good health.

Here's our New Year's Day Hoppin' John recipe in its current metamorphosis....

First thing to remember is to prepare this a day or two ahead. Much better than fresh out of the pot, though if you don't get to it ahead of time, it's still mighty fine right out of the pot.

Shopping List

Get you some ham hocks. Three minimum, but more is better. Hocks are best because they have those gelatinous tendons which will make the broth taste wonderful. Not much meat on 'em so you may want to add ham later for extra protein if you like your meals with plenty of meat.

Stop by the produce department and get a pound or two of greens: collards, turnip, mustard, etc. Or if price is no object, get the packages of washed and prepared cooking greens in the bagged salad area. Not spinach, though. It's too delicate.

While you're there, grab a bunch of fresh parsley. If you can't get fresh, just skip it. Try to find flat leaf parsley. I never did understand the point of the curly kind. Not as flavorful nor as deeply green. I'll bet it has a lot less Vitamin K, too. However, sometimes you have to settle for what you can get.

Get a yellow onion if you don't have any on hand. In this case, if you have dried onion flakes at home, they'll do fine instead.

In the frozen food section, get two bags of black-eyed peas. Don't buy the fresh ones. They put some kind of preservative on them that tastes yucky. If you have to use fresh, I'll tell you how to handle them when we get to the cooking part.


1. Start with the HAM HOCKS since they take the longest.

Rinse them well under running water and then put in a pot big enough to fit them. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Let boil for a minute or two and then dump into a colander and rinse well. Put them back into their cooking pot with more fresh water to cover.

When the hocks come to a boil, reduce to a friendly simmer and add the following (all are approximate amounts since I don't actually measure anything. Besides, it depends on how many hocks you have in the pot. Let's pretend you have three and you can increase these amounts if it's more):

1 teaspoon coriander seeds (crushed or ground are okay)
1 teaspoon celery seeds (same goes for them)
a bay leaf or two
a big, fat clove of garlic, cut in half
1/4 teaspoon (or so) red pepper flakes
1/2 medium yellow onion, or sprinkle dried onion flakes over the pot real vigorously until it looks like the equivalent.
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

Let that cook, covered, on simmer for a few hours. The liquid will reduce quite a bit. For the first hour, replenish it but then let it begin to reduce but keep it soupy. Be sure to turn the hocks so all parts of them get their time in the simmering bath.

2. Sometime while the hocks are cooking, rinse the PARSLEY and pull off the stems (I save the stems in the freezer for a bouquet garni for soup later on, but if you're not a frugal cook, don't bother). Grab the leaves in bunches and use scissors to chop them into a bowl. Coarse chop is okay. Set aside.

3. Cook enough RICE to suit yourself. I usually add bacon drippings for flavoring, but that's just my Southern background. This can be done the day before and reheated easily enough. I prefer a pilaf kind of rice, so I cook the rice on medium low for several minutes in the hot oil or bacon drippings, stirring all the while with a fork. You've sirred enough when the rice grains have become transparent. Add boiling water or broth, put on the lid, and cook on low for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let it sit for five minutes. Microwaved rice is good, too: I use a glass pyrex bowl with a salad plate to cover. It seems to take longer to cook this way so add 1/3 cup of extra water and punch in 18 minutes on high. Again, let it sit covered for a few minutes.

4. How do the hocks look? Are they beginning to fall apart? That means the water is taking up their flavor and you're ready to add the black-eyed peas. If the water is low, add more, along with the peas*. You want it soupy because the peas will absorb the liquid. Black-eyed peas take a while to become soft, especially when being cooked with smoked meat, which usually has added salt. So allow for extra time; they will soften eventually. Stir the peas around well, making sure they're covered by liquid. Put the lid back on but keep checking on the liquid.

*if you had to buy fresh peas, rinse well and then put into boiling water. Boil for two minutes and then rinse under cold running water for a minute or so. Set aside till hocks are cooked. This will get rid of whatever preservative they've put on the darn things.

5. Once the peas are in, it's time for the GREENS. My preference is young collards, Brazilian style. Wash the collards and pile the leaves into stacks. Water will cling to them, which is all the liquid you need. Coarsely shred the stacks of leaves and set aside.

Cut two or three fat cloves of garlic (can't ever have too much garlic for this dish so use more if you want) into thin slices. Heat on medium (or a bit lower) a pan big enough to hold the leaves, adding a scant 1/4 cup of olive oil to the warm pan. After it is hot enough to fry the garlic without burning it, add the slices and stir until they're golden. Pick out with a wooden spoon as they turn gold -- some will go faster than others. Put them on a plate, but don't drain the oil from them. When they've all been removed, add the shredded collard greens. The collards will spit and sizzle. Sprinkle with salt (stay on medium heat) and keep stirring them down until they are limp and cooked enough for your tastes (this is why you need young collards for this dish. The big old leaves don't ever soften). This takes less than five minutes, depending on how much greens you have. Remove from heat, sprinkle with more salt if necessary. When ready to serve, put the cooked garlic slices back in and distribute. They will soften a bit but retain their flavor. This dish can be eaten hot or at room temperature. It keeps well and can be reheated, but if cooking for later, save the garlic separately until you're ready to serve.

Okay, check the black-eyed peas. Are they soft? Is there still a thick liquid in the bottom? (if not, add water!) They're done! Turn off the pot and add the parsley you'd chopped before. Cover the pot for a minute or two so the parsley can wilt in the liquor.


As I said, these can all be done the day before. And they taste better if they can set overnight. But when the time comes to actually eat this good luck dish, here you go:

Some people stir the rice in with the beans and hocks; others serve them separately. It just depends on what particular Hoppin' John school you went to.

Some take the trouble to pull out the hocks, glean what meat they can from the bones and throw away the bones and skin.

Some save the skin to fry up later.

Many people, especially South Carolinians, would consider the amount of red pepper flakes an anemic addition not worth bothering about. They go straight to the hot sauce.

If you're serving buffet style, just set out separate bowls and let people decide how they want to arrange the three ingredients. Me, I stack 'em, with rice on the bottom and greens on the top.

If you have a dog, share the wealth with those bones, particularly the larger ones. I don't know how safe the smaller, knuckle-type bones would be but the big ones look okay. Of course, if you do have a dog, you don't need my advice...

A note about Comments: I closed them. Can't do a universal block, but I'll be doing each post if I remember. My fatigue levels are such that monitoring comments would be impossible.