Here’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to accept since I started cooking: sometimes my intentions are far grander than my reality. I hate to admit it — it genuinely causes me some pain to admit this —but I sometimes wind up wasting food. I buy a bunch of potatoes for a lattke kind of thing that I’m just certain everyone will love…then, by the time I actually get around to making it, the potatoes have become sad, soft, shriveled, little things covered by gnarled eyes, utterly beyond hope.
Like turning chicken leftovers into soup. The concept is so easy: roast a whole chicken one night (sprinkle some spices over the top, then bake in a 425-degree oven until until a thermometer inserted through thickest part of breast to bone reaches 170°, or 180°, roughly 20 minutes a pound), then boil up the carcass the next day for a fabulous soup.
Except…I’m not always so good with the follow-through. My intentions: so good, so good, I tell you. My reality until recently went more like this: Blair tries to throw the carcass away, and I shout, “No! I’m going to make soup from that!” He eyes me skeptically, but obliges. Then I put the carcass in the fridge, and I leave it there. Eventually, the refrigerator smells just a little funky. If I leave it long enough, it smells beyond-funky, and Blair asks kindly, “are we really going to do anything with this?” and I have to reply, sighing, “it’s probably too late now…”
Not anymore. Because I have learned two key things:
1. Timing is key. You gotta’ bake the chicken on a Friday or Saturday, so you can let the soup simmer away on a Saturday on Sunday. On a week night? It’s just not going to happen.
2. I have been stymied by an actual understanding of how to effectively use the carcass. I mean, yes, there’s great meat on those bones, but boiling a carcass also releases all kinds of tiny, unidentifiable bones, and mysterious chewy parts that feel all wrong in your mouth. What’s the best way to keep the good stuff, without fearing the bad?
There are lots of options. This gal, who reminds us that looking at a carcass is like being jilted by a bad lover that maybe you don’t want anyway, says to boil up the carcass with veggies for an hour – the good stuff will have been released, the bad stuff remains behind. This recipe, on the other hand, say to boil the carcass for three hours, then strain, discard everything that remains behind in the strainer, and cook the veggies in what remains. This cook says to boil the carcass for an hour and a half, then add veggies and boil for 30 minutes more.
Whatever you do, it’s worth it. Because it’s kind of like a free meal. The carcass? Free. The veggies? Face it: you’ve got a bunch of veggies lying around that you might never use if you don’t throw them into the pot. Out these two things together, and you’ve got a soup that is cost-free and guilt free. Free soup! You waste nothing! You spend nothing! All you’ve gotta’ do is embrace that carcass.
Here’s what I did: I boiled the chicken in water, plus I threw in an unopened boxed chicken stock that was ever-so-slightly expired. Only ever-so-slightly, though. Weeks. A month, tops.
I also added a touch of vinegar, as the Weston Price Society tells me that vinegar helps pull valuable minerals from the bones. I’ve read that elsewhere, too. I boiled for a little over an hour.
Then I strained it using a colander (don’t forget to put another pot underneath!) picked off the chunks of chicken, and added that right back to the broth. Here’s a photos of the leftover bones I admit that it’s not as pretty as some other photos I could paste here, but we’re embracing the carcass, folks, and I want you to see the reality. Plus, there is something about Elmo’s face sticking out beneath these bones that really sort of appeals to me (what is wrong with me?):
Meanwhile, I fried up those veggies, along with a teaspoon or so of thyme, and a bay leaf. In my case, the veggies were 2 mega-leeks, garlic, and carrots:
The carrots were from an old bag that’s been in back of the fridge for too long:
Oh, and don’t I have an old rutabaga lying around somewhere?
And how about some potatoes before they become unrecognizable:
Once the leeks are soft-ish, pour the broth back over the veggies, add kosher sea salt and pepper to taste, with maybe a tad more vinegar, and simmer away, about a half-hour:
Try it. You will find that you have just made your best soup ever. It was the leeks, you’ll think! No, wait, maybe it’s the rutabaga (such an underrated vegetable, the rutabaga)! Maybe it’s the mineral-rich broth, so very nutritious and tasty. Or maybe, it’s that wallet of yours, which — for once — you didn’t have to touch to make a meal.
Whatever the reason, the soup is good. Like, really, surprisingly, unbelievably good. So good, that your family will finish every single drop:
And you can feel great. You wasted not. You want not. You are happy and satisfied. And you no longer fear the carcass.