Friday, April 07, 2006

Comfort food, Khmer style.

It has been a tough month so far, in terms of emotions and money.

Thus, we find a place for rice porridge. Not the seasoned congee, loaded with bits of chicken and garlic and onion, but just rice boiled in a lot of water until pleasantly mushy, and ultimately comforting.

I've been poor, lazy, and busy, so I found myself eating the porridge with just pepper and soy sauce this morning. It's a bit pathetic, so here is the plan:

Comfort food, slightly more sexy-fied.

- Boil chicken thighs in chicken stock (from the many quarts I'm sure are in the freezer, anticipating)
- Mince about half a head of garlic and fry in oil until golden brown (drain the oil off, use for sauteing fish!)
- Add a touch of both soy sauce & fish sauce to the broth to taste, and salt/pepper if you don't go for the fish-ness
- Chop a bit of cilantro, slice some lime, slice scallions
- Cook vermicelli rice noodles (the traditional) or flat egg noodles in boiling water and drain
- Ladle broth and chicken onto noodles, add a spoonful of fried garlic, and sprinkle with cilantro, lime, and scallions

Simple and satisfying.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The pleasure of whole chickens.

Whole Foster Farms Young Chickens went on sale this past week at Stater Bros. markets all over Orange County and like any smart home chef, I pounced on those 67-cents-per-pound little beauties like they were filet mignon, all the while gleefully celebrating the addition their bones would make to my "stock bits" collection in the freezer.

Let me tell you, there is little more a gal like me can ask for than to come home with two 3-ish pound chickens for under 6 dollars.

The only thing to decide was what exactly to do with the chickens. I want to attempt Alton Brown's recipe for pan-fried chicken in vegetable shortening, but the thought of soaking chicken in all those transfats is a bit unsettling. This past quarter I took a class called "Biology and Chemistry of Cooking" that is largely based on Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking (The Science and Lore of the Kitchen), which goes into fabulous detail about food that most people don't care to know and which tickles me to no end.

A note on transfats - they happen during hydrogenation, which is what manufacturers do to veg oil to make it solid at room temperature. The hydrogen overdose changes the structure of the fats into a form that takes exponentially longer for the body to break down-- thus, margarine heart attacks.

I ended up boiling one of the chickens (after cutting it apart) with a large onion, some garlic cloves, a single bay leaf, and some whole peppercorns. I didn't add much else because I just wanted to cook the chicken through without any overpowering flavors so that I could use it for wraps and ramen additions during the week. I fished out the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, took the bones out and added them to carcass remaining in the pot, and continued to simmer it for a few more hours while I watched Mr. & Mrs Smith with the girlfriend. I only made maybe a quart or so of "stock-ish" liquid, so it was easy to chill it down-- I just poured it through a strainer into a small pot nestled into a larger, wider pot filled with water and ice packs.

In the morning, I removed the lovely layer of shmaltz (chickeny fatty goodness) and wrapped that in foil, then stored it in the freezer for making cream of chicken soup among other goodies.

Since I don't think the broth has quite enough flavor yet, I'm going to boil the other chicken in it, too, this time with carrots, celery, more garlic cloves, a stalk of fennel, and the other bits of chicken carcass I've been saving for stock-making (as well as a bit more water of course).

This stock-making is an exciting business!

While the stock was bubbling, I was preparing orzo with roasted red onions and tomato and filets of salmon with garlic chunks, but that shall have to wait for the next post.

In the meanwhile, go buy some whole chickens!