Monday, May 20, 2013

Theme: Braised Chicken

The key to cooking Dinner every day is to be prepared to do so - and the easiest way to do that is to make sure you have ingredients on hand. And, if you want to be able to cook quickly, with little effort (the bus was delayed, you're exhausted, and a family member needs to eat and get out to a meeting.) it helps if you have a few already cooked, or ready to cook, ingredients on hand.

This can also be the key to making a lunch to carry, instead of relying on the local fast food place... I've spoken before about making a lunch salad with previously prepared foods.

One thing I try to have on hand is cooked chicken. It is versatile, inexpensive, nutritious,  and it tastes good.

In this case, I bought a family pack of bone-in chicken thighs, and filled a soup pot with them. Then I poured in enough cold water to just cover the meat. I covered it (with the cover just a little ajar, to allow some steam to escape,) brought it to a slow simmer,  and simmered it about an hour, just until the meat started to fall from the bone.


Another time, I might season it, at least with salt, or add vegetables, but this time I just wanted a plain stock and unseasoned meat.


I removed the meat from the stock, let it cool, and removed and discarded bones and skin. Then I packed the meat in a couple of containers - one for the freezer, for future use, and one in the refrigerator, to use in dinners and salads. I also poured off the stock into containers, and saved it - to add to sauces, to make a soup, to add flavor to anything I make. The fat rises to the top, as it cools, and I can skim it off, or choose to use some of it for flavor. (If making soup, I discard most but not all of it - the fat does carry much of the flavor.) This is the rendered chicken fat, or schmaltz. used in traditional Ashenazi Jewish cooking in the way other cultures use bacon fat or butter - and I occasionally use it in that way, for the flavor.

I prefer legs or a whole chicken for braising - breasts alone end up dry and tasteless. And the thighs are the easiest to bone. Boneless skinless thighs would be even easier, of course.

The next day, when I did not have time to cook, I saut├ęd half an onion in a little olive oil, added enough chicken for the two of us, poured in some of the stock, and brought it to a boil.

Then I added Frozen Mixed Vegetables. Yes, if you read this blog, you know I use and prefer fresh, local vegetables from Greenmarket or a CSA. However, I *always* have some sort of frozen vegetable in the house. In a few months, they will be vegetables I have cooked and frozen for later use (aka leftovers,)  but, at this time of year, with fresh vegetables few on the ground, I have commercial frozen vegetables. Honestly, even in midsummer I may have either these or frozen peas, because they are so easy to add to things - they mean I never skip vegetables because I'm tired - they're never "too hard."

Anyhow - I heated all that through (frozen veggies just really need to be heated, they're already cooked,)  sprinkled in some Spike (a seasoned salt,) microwaved the container of leftover brown rice I also had handy (I always make rice in batches with enough for 2-3 days) and I had... Dinner. In 10-15 minutes.


Simple enough, better than a commercial frozen dinner, faster than ordering out, and I had control of the ingredients.

I will show and discuss more interesting meals. It is important, though, to remember that this is still cooking - indeed, it is cooking from scratch (though I had done some of the cooking at an earlier time.) And it really did taste good...  And it is really achievable, however busy you are. 

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