On the fifth day of Thanksgiving, bring the turkey stock that wouldn’t fit into the ice cube tray to a simmer. Pick the bread out of your leftover stuffing and add what remains to the pot (cremini mushrooms, Italian sausage, fennel and leeks in this case). Add a few sliced carrots. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Roughly chop and add the remaining turkey meat. Add a big bunch of swiss chard. Proceed to eat this for the next three days, noting that you really just kicked the leftover can a little further down the road. But hey, at least you worked a little fiber into the equation.
I live in a 600-square foot apartment. From the front door, you can see straight through my entire home and out the bedroom window. Should you want a little air, it’s two flights up or two flights down. As I type this, I’m watching a neighbor across the alley preparing dinner. (Looks like pasta again.)
My kitchen is small but efficient. I’ve pulled off dinner parties for 12 and a surprisingly rocking baby shower for 30. But there’s no way a whole pig is going into my Easy Bake-esque Ikea oven. Sometimes you have to leave the cooking to professionals.
Last Sunday an intrepid group of friends risked life and limb in the name of pork. With snow and ice coating the ground and another storm on the way, we boarded a northbound train along the Hudson. By the time we made it out of the tunnels, the flakes were coming down hard. We disembarked at Dobbs Ferry into a glittery wonderland and hiked up a steep hill. As we rounded the corner, we caught sight of yellow light spilling out of the lone sign of life. It was The Cookery and we were there for their Pig Dinner.
We warmed up with a round of cocktails before tucking into some delightful swine and wine. The first course was a sunny side up egg atop some luscious braised kale, which was paired with a dry Gewurtzraminer that did a nice job of cutting through the fattiness. The first course was a hit, despite the fact that some in our party were surprised that it was not fried egg and tail.
As they cleared our plates, the wait staff offered sobering instructions. When the lights flickered, we were to clear the way. A few minutes later, the lights flickered and our pig emerged on the largest cutting board I have ever seen. They placed the animal in the center of the table, where the chef made short work of breaking it down into edible parts.
The pig came with a red wine that escapes me at the moment and some stellar seasonal vegetable dishes. But all eyes were on the succulent meat and the skin, which has taken on a candied quality during a final blast of high heat. We ate with abandon, as if we were desperate to ensure our fair share of the meat. Within 15 minutes, everyone was easing into a pork coma. Turns out eight people are no match for even a modest 35-pound pig.
The wait staff left us to contemplate a sparkling Moscato and a surprisingly refreshing maple panna cotta while they divvied up the leftovers. And so, less than two house after arriving in Dobbs Ferry, we found ourselves slip-sliding our way back down the hill, aluminum pans of meat and bones in hand. It is a good thing there are no wild dogs on Metro North. I made it back to Brooklyn around 11:00pm. It had been a long and booze-laden weekend. It was all I could do to shove the meat into the refrigerator and the pork bones into a baggie in the freezer before climbing into bed.
A few days later, I found myself working from home in a desperate bid to push a couple of grants proposals out by the end of the week. It was a cold and nasty day–at least from what I could glean from my view of the alley and various social media posts. For breakfast, I fried up some of my pig meat with a small onion and added some scrambled eggs for quick and delicious breakfast tacos.
But my real focus was the bones lurking in my freezer. With a whole day at home, I had time to make some serious bone broth. I threw the bones into a roasting pan and popped it into a 350-degree oven. An hour later, I added a couple of quartered onions plus some roughly chopped and slightly limp root vegetables I found hiding out in the back of the crisper.
After another hour, my bones and vegetables had taken on a rich brown color and were ready for the stockpot. I added enough water to cover everything, brought the pot to a boil and then lowered the heat until I had a very slow simmer going. I also threw in a couple of bay leaves and 12 black peppercorns for good measure. My pork stock simmered for eight hours, requiring nothing but an occasional stir and a little more water when the liquid started to get low. Before bed, I strained the liquid into a glass container, let it cool and popped it into the fridge.
My patience yielded about a quart of unctuous concentrated pork stock. It was the texture of Jell-O and topped by a nice layer of pork fat, which I reserved for a future use. Half of the stock went in the freezer (I’m thinking ramen) and the other half went into a pot of flageolet the next night. More on those later.
My first year in the Master’s Program in Food Studies at NYU is barreling to a close. Holding down a full-time job–one where I am expected to be both physically and mentally present–while taking two courses is rough. And it gets worse at the end of the semester. This past weekend I swore off social engagements and locked myself in my apartment in a desperate bid to make some headway on the first of my two research papers. When the fog lifted on Monday morning, I had some rather impressive spreadsheets, maps, and charts. I also had a lot of leftovers.
It is a common misconception that Food Studies involves cooking. While most of my classmates love cooking and many hold culinary degrees and/or have made a living working in kitchens, Food Studies is an academic discipline and most of our time is spent slogging through old cookbooks, historical documents, scholarly journals, and online databases.
In my experience, this disjuncture gives rise to a unique form of procrastination. Allow me to present A Day in the Life of a Food Studies Grad Student (as Told through the Medium of Food)…
Saturday, 6:00pm – Having dutifully stayed home on Friday night in order to research the geography and history of New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, and recognizing the importance of quality food to keeping my energy and my spirits up, I allowed myself a foray to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket earlier in the day. This meant there were Cayuga Pure Organics cannellini to rinse, sort, and soak.
I also bought a chicken and some andouille from Flying Pigs Farms. The sausage went into the freezer for some future use and the bird got rubbed down with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. I would soon make short work of the leeks, kale, rosemary, chives, and apples that I toted home.
Saturday, 8:00pm – My eyes were starting to go in and out of focus as I struggled through a spreadsheet detailing census data. Assuming it was some combination of fatigue and hunger, I decided it was time for a break. While the oven preheated, I cracked open a beer and set to work making a stuffing of kale, leeks, lemons, fresh rosemary, and toasted almonds. (Shout out to my dear friend Louis for the almond inspiration.)
Saturday, 8:30pm – It had been several hours since my lunchtime salad and the beer had gone straight to my head. There was a light rapping at my door. A neighbor who had spent the day on a silent meditation hike and knew that I was grounded for the weekend wordlessly handed me a very full glass of red wine. That is the only excuse I can come up with for this compromising photo of my beautiful stuffed heritage chicken.
Saturday, sometime after 10:00pm – I am not sure what I did while the chicken roasted (save for ponder whether my oven temperature was accurate), but at some point the bird was finally, mercifully done. Even better, my makeshift roasting rack had proven a success. I hacked off a leg, scooped out some stuffing, and went to town.
Sunday, 9:30am – After a leisurely hour sipping a latte and catching up on the gossip blogs, it was time to get back to work. Well, first it was time for an omelette made with whatever bits and ends were in the fridge. In this case, it was red onion, red pepper, and feta accompanied by a slice of toasted whole wheat sourdough and arugula and (past their prime) grape seed tomatoes dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
Sunday, 10:00am – Just one more task before I got to work. I needed to get some vegetable stock going for those cannellini beans. In went the tops from the previous night’s leeks, a large onion, some garlic, a carrot, a few desultory celery stalks, some dried shiitake mushrooms, the grape seed tomatoes that hadn’t made the cut for breakfast, and some whole black peppercorns.
Sunday, 12:00pm – Having put in a couple of solid hours researching mentions of New Orleans and the Bywater in The New York Times, my vegetable stock had achieved a rich caramel hue. I strained it into a bowl, pressing on the solids to squeeze out any additional broth. I was about to discard the dregs when I remembered the chicken carcass I had drunkenly picked before bed. The bones and the leftover vegetables went back into the pot with whatever was left in the fridge – another onion, some garlic, and a bit more celery. This all simmered for a couple of hours before being strained and placed in the fridge.
A couple of days later (tonight, in fact, when I happened to remember it while rooting for the leftover roast chicken), I pulled the bowl of stock out of the fridge. I skimmed off the fat that had congealed on top and added it to the jelly jar labeled “schmaltz” that occupies a place of honor in the freezer. I then spooned the stock into ice cube trays, which I will transfer to a plastic freezer bag once they are set. (If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out my tips for making stock.) The warm color and the Jell-o consistency tell me that this is going to be good stuff.
Sunday, 2:30pm – Time to get the cannellini going. I very loosely followed an online recipe that someone had adapted from Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen, a book I had not previously encountered. (If this recipe is any indication, I’d say it’s worth giving a look.) From what I can recall, my alterations included adding a whole lemon sliced into thin pieces, the rind from a hunk of hard cheese (the ham hock of the vegetarian world), some fresh rosemary, and the aforementioned homemade vegetable stock. It’s safe to assume I took some other liberties.Sunday, 3:30pm – Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between distractedness and hunger. Better safe than sorry, so I cut up an apple, added a spoonful of peanut butter, and got back to the books.
Sunday, 4:00pm – OK, it really was hunger. Next up: peanut butter and raisins. This is one of my all-time favorite snacks, which I picked up from a friend of my parents who lived with us when I was somewhere under the age of four. He and I were the morning people in the household. (I grew out of it.) One of my earliest memories is hanging out in the icy cold kitchen of our farmhouse taking turns scooping spoonfuls of peanut butter and raisins while my parents slumbered upstairs. (Our roommate preferred to add the raisins to–and eat straight from–the jar.)
Sunday, 5:30pm – I had an early dinner party with neighbors scheduled, so I scooped about half the beans into a bowl left over from my short-lived ceramics hobby. I mashed them up, folded in shredded parmesan cheese and chives, dusted a bit more cheese on the top, and popped it under the broiler. While the cheese browned, I toasted slices of the whole wheat sourdough in a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil. I garnished the dip with additional chives and headed downstairs for some much-needed human contact.
On Saturday I took a break from schoolwork to meet up with a friend for brunch (shakshuka for me, a tuna melt for my date) followed by manicures and pedicures (swimming pool blue and fire engine red for me, sunset orange for her).
Afterwards, we swung by the Fort Greene Park Greenmarket where I thought I might pick up something for dinner. I had a guest due at 8:00 and a mountain of reading to get through, so I was looking for a dish that could cook in the oven without much tending. On a whim, I bought a 4.5-pound whole Moulard duck from Hudson Valley Duck Farm.
I arrived home to find my neighbor Chris planting daffodils and pansies in the planters outside our apartment buildings. As we chatted, I set down my heavy tote bag and mentioned the duck inside. Chris, who is no slouch in the cooking department (he had made Momfuku’s Korean pork for a work potluck just the day before), wished me luck, noting that he had never cooked a whole duck. Come to think of it, neither had I.
Back in my apartment, none of the cookbooks included recipes for a whole duck. I flipped through some online recipes, each with more elaborate preparations than the last. It seemed that I should have started preparing my duck a couple of days ago. Then I remembered that the woman working the stand had encouraged me to check out Melissa Clark’s video on The New York Times website. Three and a half minutes later, I was good to go. Clark provides a simple, straightforward technique that you can riff on in an endless number of ways–the ideal recipe, in my book.
I rinsed the bird, hacked off the neck, made small incisions all over the skin (taking care not to nick the flesh), and rubbed it down with salt, pepper, cayenne powder, and some Chinese five-spice powder that I had on hand. Then I set it in the refrigerator uncovered and got down to my reading.
A few hours later, I removed the duck and let it come to room temperature while I preheated the oven. I stuffed the bird with large hunks of fresh ginger and garlic and half a lemon left over from a previous meal. At the last minute, I decided to drizzle the duck with a bit of soy sauce and honey.
Aside from some temperature adjustments and one flip, the duck took care of itself for the next couple of hours. As the heady scent filled my apartment, I realized that none of the wines I had in the house would hold up to the bold flavors, so I ran to the wine shop four blocks away. The shopkeeper could smell the duck and spices on me and, after some consideration, we settled on a Riesling and an Old Vine Zinfandel.
The duck rested draped lightly in tinfoil while I prepared rice and purple kale with leeks, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.
The duck was excellent–so much so that, by the time we had finished picking, there was nothing left but the carcass and half a breast.
I awoke this morning feeling better than expected given how much wine we drank. I was determined to get as much as I could out of my duck. I was also determined to procrastinate on the day’s schoolwork. I made some coffee and got to work.
First up, I chopped the leftover meat and rendered it in a small skillet over medium heat before adding some finely sliced mustard greens. Once the greens had wilted, I added a bit of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Breakfast was served.
Following instructions I found online, I put some water in a small pan, added the excess fat and skin that I had trimmed from the duck prior to roasting, and brought it to a simmer over medium heat. An hour or so later, I poured the concoction through a fine mesh sieve and into a gravy separator which I stuck it in the fridge. Once the fat had congealed, I poured off the residual water and was left with some truly glorious looking duck fat. I imagine I’ll use it to pan fry some potatoes and as the foundation for a roux.
While my duck fat rendered, I preheated the oven to 400. I broke the duck carcass into as many pieces as I could manage (really must get a cleaver) and added it to a roasting pan along with the trimmings from last night’s leeks, a bunch of bedraggled scallions I found in the crisper, a few carrots, some celery, and some roughly chopped garlic. I drizzled this with a tablespoon or so of duck fat I had spooned out of the roasting pan last night and popped it in the oven for an hour.
The roasted bones and vegetables then went into a medium-sized pot along with a bay leaf, several whole black peppercorns, a pinch of dried thyme, and enough water to cover. This simmered over medium-low heat while I continued studying.
After a couple of hours, the liquid was a rich brown color and my apartment smelled unbelievable.
I strained the broth into a bowl and stuck it in the fridge. After an hour, I scraped off the fat that had accumulated on the surface and poured the stock through a fine mesh sieve into a container that I stuck in the freezer. I see some killer gumbo in my future.
Winter storm Nemo passed over New York City last night, leaving us with somewhere around a foot of snow. Mayor Bloomberg encouraged everyone to stay home. But my brother-in-law was stranded in Los Angeles and my sister Hannah was going a bit nuts trapped inside with their teething one-year-old, Wally. So I donned my shearling-lined Bean boots (thanks, Mom!) and headed outside.
We had plans to have dinner delivered. But once I experienced the sharp little ice chunks pelting my face, I couldn’t imagine asking someone else to do so on a bike. Luckily, Brooklyn Victory Garden is halfway between our apartments. I scanned their well-curated selection of meats and immediately hit on roast chicken as the ideal meal for a blizzard. I also grabbed some Satur Farms wild arugula (so tasty) and a demi baguette. As she was ringing me up, the woman behind the counter asked if I had bought this chicken before, to which I replied no. “They’re great,” she said, “but you’ll want to remove the head and feet before roasting.” I thanked her for the advice and headed across the street for a lemon and some shallots.
By the time I got to my sister’s, the ice chips had given way to light, fluffy snow. Up on the 10th floor of her high rise, the flakes whirled in every direction, but mainly straight up–a remarkable effect that I could have watched for hours. But there was a baby to be entertained. We played bouncy. We built towers and knocked them down. We read books. We hammered balls into holes and sometimes just hammered people.
By 7:00, Hannah was nursing Wally to sleep and the chicken was in the oven. It was stuffed with shallot and lemon slices; coated in salt, pepper, and olive oil; and nestled in a bed of carrots and shallots. (I find it criminal not to allow some vegetables to cook in those delicious pan drippings.) I poured some wine and commenced to watch the snow. Around 8:00 we sat down to a dinner that included the roast chicken and carrots, arugula dressed with a shallot and balsamic vinaigrette, and the baguette, which I had crisped in the oven while the chicken rested. This was my first encounter with a Bo Bo chicken, but I can assure you it will not be my last. We sat at the table for quite some time picking at the bones, talking, and knocking back wine.
I had planned to depart before the worst of the storm, but the conversation (and, it is safe to assume, the wine) got the better of me. By the time I made it out to the street (chicken head, feet and bones tucked into my bag), Brooklyn was a winter wonderland and the streets were nearly deserted. It was breathtaking.
Today I am content to sit at home watching old movies, catching up on a long-forgotten knitting project, and simmering chicken stock.
It is a wonder to me that anyone ever throws chicken bones away, as homemade stock is seriously easy, makes the whole house smell glorious, and adds that extra little something to just about any savory dish. At the most basic level, you toss a chicken carcass or parts thereof into a pot with just enough water to cover and simmer. But here are some tricks I’ve picked up over the years.
- If you don’t have enough bones yet, or are lacking the time for a proper slow cook, just toss the bones in a plastic bag in the freezer until you are ready.
- You can use raw or roasted chicken, or a combination of the two. Raw will yield a lighter, more refined stock while roasted will have a bolder, deeper flavor.
- Crack any bones that you can manage. (Note to self: must buy cleaver.) Stock is more about the bones than the meat. Cartilage and marrow are what give a good stock–and, ultimately, a good soup–that velvety mouth feel. Breaking the bones speeds this process. The best stock I ever made was, once it cooled, the consistency of Jell-o.
- Add some aromatics, vegetables, herbs and/or spices. Onions, garlic, carrots, celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, pepper, and allspice will give you a more complex flavor. You’re not limited to these ingredients, but they all provide a reasonably neutral base from which you can build. Fennel, parsnips, rosemary, and the like would be delicious, but may point your ultimate dish in a specific direction.
- Keep your stock at a low simmer. A full boil will emulsify the fat and yield cloudy stock.
- If scum appears at the top of the pot, skim it. This will also contribute to a clear stock.
- Cook your stock for as long as you can stand it and at least one hour. I had a roommate who would leave the pot on low overnight, which I found alarming from a safety perspective (though her stock was good). Four hours is great. Add water as needed to keep your ingredients submerged.
- If you’ve got limited storage space, let the stock cook down until it is concentrated.
- Don’t add a lot of salt. It is very easy to oversalt when you are cooking something down and you can always season at the end of the process and/or when making your final dish.
- Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer, pressing hard on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Cool your stock, pop it in the fridge overnight, and then scrape off the layer of fat that forms on the top.
- Save the aforementioned fat in a container in the freezer and use it in place of or in addition to oil or butter for some extra flavor. I find that potatoes are particularly tasty. My grandma has fond memories of coming home from school to a piece of toast slathered in schmaltz, but I have yet to go there.
- If you’re not going to use the stock right away, pour it into ice cube trays, freeze them, and then drop them in a plastic baggie. You’d be amazed what a single cube of good quality chicken stock can do for a lackluster stir-fry or pasta sauce.
This technique works fine for turkey as well and has become my Black Friday ritual. But, as you can see, I ran into some problems when I tried to use Wally.