Friday, September 12, 2008

Chicken!


I'm pretty sure a lot of people don't view chicken as seasonal, any more than beef or pasta or any other staple of the western diet. It's true, I use chicken year-round.
Yet early fall is a time that makes me think of chicken, for two reasons: the Jewish high holy days, and the inevitable end-of-summer cold or flu.

I admit that I am not the most observant of Jews - in my family, it is more what you are rather than how you act, like being Polish or Italian. I certainly don't keep kosher, although I have never been comfortable with handling pig products. Most of the time I don't think about it, except for twice a year - Passover and the high holy days, when suddenly I become obsessed with kugel, brisket, egg noodles and - yes - chicken soup.

Chicken and Jewish food - and Ashkenazi (thats Eastern European as opposed to Mediterranian Sephardic) Jewish culture in particular -have a special relationship. Chickens feature in traditions such as Kapparot, a pre-Yom Kippur ritual in which a chicken is swung three times around the head (I swear, I have never taken part!).
Chicken is a primary mover of Ashkenazi Jewish food, probably stemming from the chicken being one of the easiest things to raise and slaughter in the often very cramped community of the ghetto. Chicken livers for chopped liver, and especially the chicken fat, for frying latkes, making matzoh balls, and gleaming in golden droplets upon chicken soup. We used to be able to buy it in the kosher section, but now if I want chicken fat I have to go ahead and roast a chicken.

I am a firm believer that chicken fat is a wonder food. Chicken soup certainly does wonders for the immune system.

Lots of posts have been made on the incredible dollar-stretching capacity of the roasted chicken, so I probably don't need to go into it here. Suffice to say, you've got dinner for at the very least a week, and after all that, zip up that carcass in a plastic baggie and freeze it for whenever you need more chicken stock. Which, by the way, is incredibly easy and cheap to make (heck, you can even do it in a slow cooker) and you can freeze it in easy portions.

Or, you can make some kickass cold-busting soup.

pre-frozen chicken stock, or stock made from strach:
---> chicken carcass + water+ half onion+ carrot + celery, parsley, salt, pepper, simmer on low until carcass falls apart. strain, pour back into pot.

Add veggies of choice (celery and carrot and lots of onion for me) and cook on low until carrots are soft. Season to taste.
Boil up some egg noodles in a separate pot (FYI, NEVER NEVER EVER cook noodles IN your soup. I learned this the hard way.) Or, make matzoh balls. Lots of recipes can be found online, but chicken fat is a must and seltzer is the secret ingredient =)

Noodles or matzoh balls go in the bowl first, then soup. This is simple and good, good stuff. There is no excuse for Campbell's.

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