Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to use every part of the chicken but the feathers, part 1

Today is going to be about using up as much of a chicken as possible. Two great ingredients can be easily created out of stuff that many people toss out without a second thought. But my humble opinion is that if you are going to kill an animal, you should at least do it the courtesy of not wasting it.

At the risk of sounding like Dan Aykroyd's impersonation of Julia Child on Saturday Night Live ("Save the liver!"), I am going to ask you to save the fat and all the bony bits whenever you cook a chicken or duck, because nothing goes unused in a traditional Chinese kitchen. Besides, these parts are just too tasty to throw out. 

In the previous post I mentioned that you should save any extra chicken fat so that you can render it in preparation for some of the Shanghainese recipes that are coming up before long, and any bony pieces that you might otherwise throw away can be turned into an almost instant stock that will be ready at about the same time that your other dishes are ready. (Any mention of chicken in this column goes double for duck, one of the most luxurious fats and delicious stocks in the world!)

All this boils down to is just good sense. Chicken fat - as any Jewish grandma will tell you - is good for you, and schmaltz is in the culinary arsenal of Chinese grandmothers, as well. So, first we are going to look at how to make Rendered Chicken Fat. And, in the next column, we'll learn how to make a simple chicken stock out of things that might normally be tossed out. 

Chicken butter
The chicken fat is used here on a Shanghainese dish that is traditionally made with napa cabbage, but I've come to love it on the tiny cabbages known as bok choy. Folks in Shanghai dote on cabbages that have been cooked past the crunchy stage to where they almost melt. There's no mushiness involved, but rather a sensuous slide between vegetable and sauce. Here the bok choy are simmered in chicken stock for a few minutes and then left to poach while you cook the rest of the dinner. This gives the vegetables just enough time to give up the last of their resistance while retaining their bright green. The melted schmaltz on the drained little cabbages is the final touch.

Once you have these recipes under your belt, whenever you cook a bird, you'll probably never throw away anything except for the wrapper.


Rendered chicken fat
Jiyou  雞油 
All over China
Amount varies according to amount of ingredients

Solid fresh chicken fat and fatty skin
Filtered water
1. Place the chicken fat and skin in either a wok or skillet, drizzle in a few tablespoons of filtered water, and cover the wok with a splatter screen or lid to keep the fat from flying out. Melt the fat over medium-high heat; the water will help keep the skin from burning before the fat melts. 


2. Lower the heat as needed to keep a steady sizzle going, but you don't want to burn the skin. When the skin and fat solids are golden brown, drain off the fat. Store the fat in a covered jar in the refrigerator, where it will stay fresh for weeks. Crumble up the crispy solids - what we used to call cracklings - over stir-fries, soups, or wherever else might benefit from a bit more crunch.



Pour the hot schmaltz over the veggies
Baby bok choy with chicken fat 
Jiyou xiaobaicai  雞油小白菜 
All over China
Serves 6 to 8 as part of a multicourse meal

12 ounces (or so) baby bok choy
2 cups salted chicken stock, or 2 cups filtered water and a teaspoon chicken bouillon
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat
1. Clean the baby bok choy by slicing them in half lengthwise to expose the insides of the leaves. Soak the bok choy in a couple changes of lukewarm water, swishing them around to dislodge all of the grit. When the water no longer shows any sand, drain the bok choy in a colander.

2. Heat the stock or water plus bouillon in a 2-quart saucepan. When it comes to a boil. add all of the vegetables and toss them around in the pot until they wilt. Simmer the bok choy for a total of 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and let them poach in the hot liquid for about 15 minutes, or until tender; do not cover the pan. (This would tend to turn the vegetables a shade of greenish gray.)

3. Just before serving, drain the bok choy and pile it decoratively on a rimmed serving platter. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the vegetables. Heat the chicken fat in a small pan until it smokes, and then immediately pour it all over the vegetables. Serve it immediately.

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