Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pastured Poultry Preservation

Recently, preparing to leave Massachusetts for a sojourn in the sunny south, I surveyed my winter stockpile of provisions with a critical eye. I needed stock. Chicken stock. Lots of chicken stock. What, after all, is a cold winter’s day without a pot of soup steaming on the stovetop and a mug of cocoa reanimating my frosted fingers? Admittedly, homemade stock has never been my strongpoint—for an embarrassingly long time I suffered under the illusion that one chicken’s worth of bones, if simmered long enough, could magically transform an entire pot of water into a rich, fragrant base for soups. This is patently untrue, as a succession of “subtle” (read: watery) stocks demonstrated. With vegetable stocks I had equally unfortunate results, primarily because I could never bring myself to sacrifice a sufficient quantity of perfectly good veggies to the stockpot. (The one time I did manage to achieve vegetable broth nirvana, as part of an over-ambitious soup-in-a-pumpkin spectacle, I ran a tab of about $50. For soup. Never again, Whole Foods).

But this time around I had several secret weapons: The River Cottage Meat Book, the most scrumptious treatise on carnivory ever composed, 75 lbs of chicken backs and too-small-for-sale birds, and a knowledgeable assistant. OK, so maybe Andrew was actually in charge. He spent the season working at Polyface Farm, our source for stock birds and a perfect stopping point in my seasonal migration from north to south. When I learned that we could borrow a kitchen and two pressure canners in return for one night of feeding the crew, I decided that it was time to purchase additional canning jars, and perhaps buy stock in the Ball company.

Do not be deceived by my history of failure: making a good stock is fantastically simple. As long as you avoid the two great sins of stock-making—overboiling and underpacking—you cannot fail. First, you must pack the pot tightly with your bones and/or meat and add only enough water to cover everything. Second, you must maintain your pot at the most tremulous of simmers for 3-6 hours. We added a few carrots, some celery stalks, and several quartered onions to our brew, but eschewed the addition of any salt. While “salt to taste” seems to be the directive that commercial stock companies cook by (check out the sodium content on that Campbell’s soup!), we wanted to save the salting step for the distant day when we use our stock. Besides, our stock was so flavorful that we didn’t need salt in order to taste the chicken-y goodness.

Several hours later, with the afternoon sun streaming into the kitchen, we began to decant our stocks one by one, first pulling out whole birds, necks, and backs, then carefully straining the broth through a fine sieve. Internet sleuthing had revealed that the fat in our stock could interfere with a proper canning seal or cause the stock to go rancid, so we covered the pots, stashed them in my cat-proof car to chill for the night, and made plans to regroup in the morning. Chicken as air freshener—I think it will really catch on.

Then we cooked dinner for 12 hungry farmers.

Morning found us in the kitchen again, skimming off the risen fat and preparing the safe-like pressure canner for duty. Low acid foods like stock require the high heat of a pressure canner for safe home canning. Please don’t ever use a water bath and call it even—it isn’t. You can, of course, freeze your stock and store it for at least a year, but with our freezer bursting from 130 lbs of veal, we felt that canning made the most sense. We saved the chicken fat (schmaltz) for matzoh balls, stir-fries, and spreading on bread, and we canned our eighteen quarts of stock in just a few hours.

Coming soon: What We Did While the Stock (tremulously) Simmered or In Defense of Fat or Why “Lard-Bucket” is Really a Term of Endearment


Doc said...

That looks delicious!

mcummingheald@mac.com said...

hey, mary kathryn! i managed to find you, but am not sure i can figure out how to post....wanted you to have one of my favorite wendell berry poems....may have to send you more!

How To Be a Poet (to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.


Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.


Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

isn't that perfect! loved seeing you sunday....love, mary