Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Simply Chicken

There was a time when I was even more of a snob about food than I am now.  I used to casually say to friends when out to dinner chicken was the meat of choice to those who could not decide what they actually wanted.  Looking back on that remark I feel somewhat ashamed of my bourgeois attitude to the humble meat, and feel a slight guilt that I may have been plagiarising Anthony Bourdain. Now that times have changed I am happy to promote chicken, and its versatile contributions to the culinary world, as long as it is free range, antibiotic and hormone free. The best example that comes first is Marion Bay chicken from the pristine east coast.  Marion chickens are harder to come by, often found at smaller grocers and some butchers, like Hill Street or Nicholls Rivulet Store located near the turn off on the channel highway.  At a time you could get Marion chickens precooked from IGA stores.  Of coarse, select butchers will stock local chicken, such as cygnet butcher or J.B Nicholson, who will also provide to smaller grocers.  However, most chicken that claims to be free range generally comes from the same place and is supplied by one of the main producers. Marion chicken is a little on the expensive side, but it is by far the more superior and genuinely free range of the chicken products.  Buying a whole chicken and portioning it up will make your money stretch, and you can make stocks and soups from the carcass.  Alternatively you can roast it, eat what is needed, then use the rest for sandwiches, pasta etc. and the bones for stock and broths.

 However, there is another road you can go down, which is the humble Nichols chook.  Once promoted as free-range this product now prides itself as being 'responsibly farmed' and hormone free.  I believe now that Nichols only keep to guideline minimum on what is considered free-ranging and it is not hard to be hormone free in Tasmania, as all meat is due to state laws.  However, Nichols deserves a mention as they have made a huge impact on farming practices in the poultry industry, including promotion of antibiotic free chicken and sustainability, with the introduction of wind turbines for generating power on the farm.  Nichols chicken is easier to find, including super markets, grocers and butchers, and is a lot cheaper. Other brands you may come across are Churchill's, a lot rarer, only come as whole and are of a high standard like Marion, and the suspicious unmarked 'free-range' packets, often very cheap and found in less reputable grocers.  I steer clear of unmarked packets, unless they come from a butcher with verbal guarantee that they are free-range etc. Of course there are smaller producers out there and its always good to check out butchers and grocers that are located in the country for other suppliers.

Chicken is a very amazing product as it contains natural antibiotics, leading to its use in broths and soups used to fight off colds, aches and pains and the like.  Here is a recipe I use with my left over roast.

Healthy chicken broth:
Chicken carcass, meat removed- if using uncooked, boil chicken whole, alongside other ingredients.
Carrots, 2-3, I use orange and white, as purple ones leech their colour- cubed
Parsnip, 2- cubed
Potatoes, 2-3 med-large- cubed
Onion, 1 large- chopped
Garlic, 2-3 cloves- finely sliced
Dill, 3-4 large sprigs- chopped
Pepper, Salt (optional)- to taste
A little oil
If using a carcass left over from a roast, use to make a stock first, cover with water, add two bay leaves, some pepper corns, 2 storks of parsley, some fresh thyme, roughly chopped onion and carrot and a stick of celery (optional, depends on flavour). Bring to a high simmer for at least 1 hour, 2 is better.  Skim off any fat and drain into a clean bowl or container. The flavours from its previous roast will also permeate the stock and give it a richer taste. If using a raw chicken place in pot with other ingredients, cover with water and allow to boil gently until chicken is cooked, remove whole chicken and set aside. You can if you want, gently brown the outside of the chicken in the pot first for added flavour.  It is up to you whether you want to take the meat off the chicken and re-add it to the broth or serve it on the side, a more traditional touch from Eastern Europe.

Once you have your stock, place a little oil in the pot to heat and then all other ingredients except the potatoes and dill into the pot to sweat off. Once sweating off is complete, onions will look glassy or translucent, add stock, dill and season, add extra water if needed.  It is optional to add a little sugar if you wish, however I find the natural sugars in the onion and carrots work fine for my taste. Once cooked though add the meat that you took off the carcass, heat through, check seasoning again.  I like to serve mine with large chunky garlic and dill croutons, I make by rubbing fresh garlic onto thick slices of old sour dough, then cut into large rustic squares and sprinkled with dill.  Cook in a low oven about 150C for 15 minutes.  You can also sprinkle these with sea salt or Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!                  

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