Faithful readers may recall that before Gourmandistan left for Gascony our nation’s population declined by 18—at least in spirit. The flesh of our flock remains in freezers, awaiting our final tribute to our former chickens. Steve is eager to try coq au vin, but he’ll have to wait for a visit from his friend Bill because Michelle has no interest in tenderizing tough yard birds. She thinks the best way to use them is simply making very delicious batches of stock. The basic idea is just to roast a chicken along with assorted vegetables, then simmering (usually overnight), straining and storing in various jars and bottles until needed for the many recipes calling for “chicken stock.” That’s it. Our big innovation is using a pasta cooker as a stockpot—the inset strainer takes most of the carcass and vegetable scraps out immediately, making a final strain that much simpler.
While “relocating” the flock made the trip to France less stressful, at home the absence has been odd. Steve, especially, found himself still rising at dawn and becoming fidgety as dark approached, his attention drawn to the chicken yard. And it was definitely weird to give someone else money for eggs, instead of the other way round. But just as Gourmandistan could not exist without cookbooks, our land also draws its identity from chickens. Six new-to-us yet fairly generic hens arrived yesterday, picked up in the early morning at the Bardstown Road Farmers Market from Matt and Mandy Corry of Schacht Farm. The hens spent the day getting acquainted with the fenced yard (except for one adventurous lady who hopped the fence and went for an extended tour of the grounds). So now Steve once again has an explanation for his early rising, occasional twitches, and reverse-vampire-esque urges to be home before sunset. We received three fresh eggs from the hens yesterday—enough for Michelle to make a sturdy apple cake.
And we look forward to a morning in late winter or early spring, when our baby chicks will arrive. Perhaps, that evening as we listen to faint peeps coming through the garage door, we’ll make egg-drop soup.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Roast an old chicken (or any variety of chicken pieces—necks are especially good) in a roasting pan along with several quartered onions, some halved or quartered carrots, celery stalks and a halved head of garlic. There is no need to peel the onions or garlic, though we do peel the carrots. Depending on how fatty the chicken is, you may want to drizzle a bit of olive oil over. Cook for 45 minutes or so, until browned.
Put the cooked chicken, vegetables and any juices in the roasting pan into a stockpot or a pasta pot with a removable liner. Add a bay leaf or two, some fresh parsley, perhaps some thyme and some whole peppercorns. Fill pot with water. Bring to a simmer, turn down really low and let cook very slowly overnight. In the morning, the house will smell really good. Turn off the heat and let the stock cool down a bit. Remove bones, meat and vegetables. Strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. When cooled, refrigerate or freeze.