I looked through my recent posts and realized there’s not much recipe sharing happening around here these days. Time to fix it… Where’s my utility belt?
Unless you live in the Smurf Village, you must be aware of the food revolution going on in America these days. It hasn’t started with Jamie Oliver’s hit TV show under the same name. The documentary “Food, Inc.” came first (among others). Its very own, and my personal guru, Michael Pollan has been talking about the REAL FOOD versus FOOD LIKE PRODUCTS for years now.
I’ve been observing the growing trend of eating fresh among my own friends and my American family. (In Poland it’s still so much easier to eat real food despite heavy influences of the Western World, hence I’ll focus on my life in the US for the purpose of this rant.) Shopping at Farmers Markets is fun. Sprouting one’s own herbs in a recycled can on the window seal, turned out, has nothing to do with magic. Stirring away creamy Risotto at home no longer intimidates. To top it all, gastro pubs pop up all over the cities like mushrooms after it rained. Those are the yummy eateries where everyone gets a chance to taste what fine dining is about for a fraction of what it would cost them in a high-end restaurant. Places like “Animal” on Fairfax or “Lazy Ox” Downtown (both in Los Angeles) are getting the buzz for a reason.
It’s undeniable, the way the Americans think about food today is shifting. And it’s so exciting to watch. I realize the change cannot be completed over night, but the steps we’ve been taking are very promising. Many of us, however, still hesitate to take the leap onto the brighter side of life for the organic food is priced at a higher mark. Moreover, people got used to cheap food in this country over the last several decades. The truth is, the prices are low because of the industrialization of the food market. The quality of the food in America is so low for the same exact reason. The cost of health care is also directly related. You do the math.
While I personally believe that we should pay for quality (You get what you pay for!), today I want to show you how we can all eat more organic foods without breaking the bank. Let’s use the product that an average American consumes over 60 pounds of each year–CHICKEN.
The regular chicken, not an organic one, raised most likely in some horrendous conditions, lingering knee-deep in its own feces, with legs breaking under its own unnatural weight (due to added growth hormones and overfeeding with genetically altered corn), that whole chicken costs about $6 at our grocery store. When you look over to the right, where the Organic, Free Range Chicken rests right next to the sad guy, with its price tag of $12, that may be shocking. I get that. Now, think about where your food comes from first. I don’t think it’ll take you long to lean toward the organic, happy bird. Your challenge is to use up that $12 to the last penny. I’ll show you how I do it.
First and foremost, I save a bucket of money by purchasing an entire bird versus only breasts, or legs. Then I cut it to pieces myself at home. Next, I place the chicken thighs and drums along with the boobies in a glass bowl and rub them with a combination of herbs and spices. I cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let the meat marinate for a day or two in the refrigerator.
The carcass, the neck and the wings go into a large pot along with a whole bunch of vegetables (cleaned, peeled if needed, and roughly chopped): 4-5 carrots, 2 parsnips, 1 large leek, 1 onion, 4-5 celery stalks (or 1 celery root, peeled and quartered). Next, I add a handful of whole peppercorns, no more than 1 tbsp of salt, 5-6 bay leaves and a bunch of fresh thyme springs plus a small spring of rosemary. (Dry will do, too, if you don’t have any fresh herbs handy.) Such arranged, I cover the content of the pot with water, as much as I can fit into my 6 quart dutch oven, and turn the heat on. You want to bring it to a simmer, and never let it boil. Leave the pot on the stove, with a lid on but not covering it completely, for about 2-2.5 hours.
When my chicken stock is concocting itself, I toss the giblets left from the bird (all the inner organs usually packaged along with the whole thing) in some flour and toss them onto a pan with hot oil. When those are cooked through, Cosmo has a ball. Frankly, I love chicken livers. I grew up eating them. Jason, on the other hand, is repulsed by the idea. Since one chicken liver won’t make a meal for me, I simply give it to Cosmo. You, however, can entertain the thought of using the innards for a cheap meal, if your feelings towards the meat are similar to mine.
Two hours later, I strain the stock and, once cooled, store it in an air-tight container. You can freeze it for up to 6 months! In my next installment, I’ll show you how you can turn that complex and aromatic stock into a pot of soulful soup with an addition of only a few bucks to your healthy food budget.
From the strainer I pull out all the chicken parts, and you won’t believe it until you do it yourself how much meat there’s still on that carcass, the wings, the neck. I gently pull it all away from the bones using two forks, as the meat simply falls off those bones.
Let’s add it all up. We spent $12 on the organic chicken plus another $5 – $6 on all the veg for the stock. We ended up with:
1) about 8-10 cups (based on my pot) of homemade, flavorful, organic chicken stock to be turned into a big pot of HEARTY AND FILLING SOUP in a few days;
2) 2 full legs (or 2 thighs and 2 drums, if you separate them) and 2 full breasts that are marinating in the ice-box that will turn into 2-3 full meals for two, with an addition of some starch and/or salad;
3) chicken scraps that can be sauteed for added flavor, mixed with a variety of sauces and served over brown rice or whole-wheat pasta (See how I’m planting those healthy choices in your head? INCEPTION…), or used as a filling in dumplings or croquettes, that will again easily feed 4 – 6 people.
I will get back to the SOUP and my CROQUETTES in the next few days. Today, let me share my simple tricks for baking that bird in such a way that the meat is perfectly cooked and yet still moist at each bite.
I roast my marinated chicken in a roasting pan for about 35 minutes in a 375° oven (with an addition of a ladleful of my stock and some water or white wine, 1-2 bay leaves, fresh rosemary and thyme), then take it out and let it rest covered with foil for another 10 minutes. I serve with in a variety of ways; sometimes it’s over a medley of brown rice (as seen above) for the enjoyment of our clients who love ONE MORE BITE’s Lunches. The sauce that surrounds the meat in the pan is divine. Just pour it over your starch, perk up with fresh herbs (tarragon, parsley, dill, cilantro, etc.) and you have yourself a hearty and satiating dinner! A side of simple green salad with a LEMON VINAIGRETTE makes the meal complete.
This is home cooking at its best. The food is always fresh, with no processed ingredients, all made from scratch, leaving you not only satiated and content, but also the satisfaction level from the accomplishment (when you realize what you have just CREATED ALL BY YOURSELF, FROM SCRATCH, SO DELIGHTFUL AND FRESH!) will get you like a drug. You’ll want to come back for more. IF I CAN MAKE THAT, WHAT ELSE CAN I MAKE MYSELF INSTEAD OF BUYING CRAP FROM A STORE OR EATING EVEN WORSE CRAP AT CHAIN RESTAURANTS AND FAST FOOD PLACES??? Now you feel the power of creation.
The fact that it also makes sense money wise is just a cherry that flips its feet in the pool of icing on top of the cake. The cake I have just described above. You get it, don’t you.
Homemade, organic, fresh are the slogans of today. Stay healthy, America. Stay healthy, the World! And Bon Appetit along the way.