Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chicken Stock for Cheaters, with a Little Extra

Now that the weather's changing and Fall seems to have arrived for good (although today it's supposed to be in the mid 70s), I've been in the mood for soup. I've made carrot and ginger soup, sweet and sour cabbage soup, and lentil soup. And I've been cooking chicken to make my cheater's chicken stock.

I have a friend who's been under the weather and some of the soups I've been making have been made with her in mind. And since it's soup weather, and I'm trying to come up with some healthy and nutritious (both for her and for me) ideas, this seemed like the perfect weekend to make chicken soup.

I started with the chicken. This is an all natural chicken that came from the butcher at The Big Apple on Clark Street, which is fast becoming the only place I'll buy my meat. It may not be the best in Chicago, but it's definitely the best in my neighborhood. I haven't tried their beef because I don't buy or eat much beef these days, but their pork and lamb have been consistently excellent, as have been the chicken breasts and the capon I previously bought there.

This was not a cheap chicken, but I've never bought a free-range chicken before so I decided to splurge and see if I could tell a difference between it and the regular chicken you get at the grocery store.

And not only could I see the difference right away, but I could feel it as well. You can see in the picture how pink this chicken looks, and how nicely proportioned the meat is to the bone. Now picture a chicken you get in the grocery store. The skin is yellow-white and puffy, and the meat is bulging against the skin. The skin is stronger on this chicken, too. With the last chicken quarters I've bought at the grocery store I've had trouble getting the skin off the end of the drumstick without it tearing first, making it impossible to get the rest off of the chicken. The skin on this bird was firm and tough and I was able to pull it off the way I remember I used to be able to do with any chicken.

I didn't pull off all the skin so there would be a little fat to add flavor, but I took most of it off before putting it into the stockpot.

Since I'm going to making chicken soup with this stock, I did add the aromatics while cooking the chicken. The celery has floated to the top, but there's an onion and some carrots in there too. Added to that are salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Once the chicken was in the stockpot I could see a difference there, too. I don't know if you can tell from the picture how pink the meat is compared to what we're used to seeing these days, but if looks are anything this chicken has already won the comparison contest hands down.

I was going to take a picture of the chicken as it came out of the pot, but I got distracted and forgot. I don't know if it shows in the picture, but it came out just right - tender but firm, and full of flavor. This chicken was worth every penny I spent on it.

The stock had surprisingly little fat in it, considering that I did leave some skin in there. It was easy to skim off.
Next stop: Chicken Soup.

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