Saturday, November 29, 2008

CSA week one - Chicken stock, modestly improved

After cooking yesterday's Cornish game hen I had accumulated enough poultry scraps to make a new batch of stock. The ingredients I've got on hand are pretty close to what I had last March when I first posted about making stock: about two pounds of scraps (including a fair bit of offal this time which should improve the flavor. I tossed the livers though which I hear make stock bitter.), a couple carrots, a spare turnip or two, an onion, stems from assorted greens. Looking back, I noticed that my spices were on the basic side. This time around there are more cooked scraps in there and since they were all cooked with Gullah spices so I may as well roll with that. I added another teaspoon of Gullah baking spice mix along with some thyme and a bay leaf. I also added a couple handfuls of onion peels which I understand will improve the stock's color.

The process remains the same: Everything into the pot along with enough water to cover, bring it to a boil and then a low simmer all day long. Thanksgiving weekend is a good a day as I'm going to get for such an endeavor; It's not like I'm going anywhere. I did use 14 cups of water instead of the 10 last time to make sure everything stays well submerged. If necessary I'll cook down the final stock.

Six and a half hours later, after I've strained out all of the chunky bits, I've got this. Turns out cooking down isn't an issue as I've once again done a crappy job of topping off the pot. I really should mark the water level on the side next time. I suspect some good flavor was left behind due to my negligence. The flavor is quite intense so I watered it down to 10 cups which gives me proper stock flavor levels. I like the slightly more complex, but still bird-forward flavor I got this time around. It's not so distinctively geographically localized that I can't use it in any cuisine in small quantities, but I'm not sure I'd want to make Chinese hot and sour soup with it.

I notice that there's very little fat considering. I had to keep skimming semi-solid films throughout the cooking time; most of the fat must have been caught up in that. Also, the color is a much richer bronze, even when thinned out, than previous stocks I've made. Even if the flavor isn't improved by the onion skins that's a marked improvement in the overall stock multi-sensory experience.

Again like last time, I'm making a cottage pie. I've been calling it a shepherd's pie, but I've learned recently that a shepherd's pie is a cottage pie made with mutton and this one isn't so it's not one. I want to bulk it up so I sauté just about everything suitable I've got around: some onion, mushrooms, squash, the rest of the turnips (minus one I planted as an experiment), and some southern-style sausage. I added to that corn and peas as well as quite a bit of chicken picked from the bones in pot and a quarter of a game hen leftover from last night. Some green beans wouldn't have been bad, but I really don't feel like doing all the prep they require. Plus I ought to keep a full half pound for whatever other recipe I find to use them in.

I followed the green bean casserole methodology from this point: adding a Tablespoon of flour, cooking a minute, adding 3/4 cup chicken stock, cooking a minute, adding 3/4 cup milk, cooking for six minutes, removing from the heat and adding the topping.

That topping is made of the turnips and carrots (along with a few stray bits of onion and greens) from the stockpot blended well with a bit of butter and some milk. Too much milk actually, so I added some havarti cheese to thicken it up.

Even with that, it's spread rather thin over the pie filling. Well, nothing to be done about that. I sprinkled a good handful of bread crumbs over top and into a 350 degree oven for as long as it takes. It was bubbling nicely after 20 minutes so I moved it up to the top rack and turned on the broiler for 5 more. That pan can't really take 500 degrees but I figure it won't be in there long enough for anything really awful to happen.

And here it is. Tasty, but not entirely successful texturally. The sauce seems to have clotted up and the topping is a little too light and far too scant. The fillings are cooked well, though so there's a nice variety of textures and flavors there and the carrot and turnip topping is much more interesting than using mashed potatoes. I think the problem with the sauce may have been because the sauce to stuff ratio was too low and the thin topping didn't keep the moisture from evaporating. I'll adjust things next time around and see how it goes.

No comments: