Tag Archives: Food preservation

Chicken (or Fish) Broth From Scratch

I finished recounting our trip home. We are now comfortably settled in our little house on the prairie and I am back to being a retired stay at home grandma type. So until next trip, my posts will reflect that part of my life. We live simply and frugally.

As a society we have become more and more dependant on Big Food to provide us with ready made meals. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Moms these days often have two or three jobs including raising children. There is nothing wrong with trading a little money for some convenience and time. The problem is sometimes the skills we once learned from our mothers and grandmothers get lost. So this blog is for the young woman I met in the store who was buying cut up chicken and soup base and complaining to me that she just couldn’t get soup and stew to turn out like her Grandma made it and it was costing her a fortune. My recipe is for two-three people using a small crock pot so if you have a bigger family you may want to increase the size.

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Step one is the chicken parts. I buy whole fresh chickens and cut them up myself. This works for us because my husband likes dark meat and I like light meat so very little is wasted. I prepare packages of half a breast and a thigh and leg in small packets and freeze them. If the “three-fresh-chicken” packs are on sale, I’ll buy those. I will put all the wings in one bag and we will have hot wings one night. In this case, single chickens were on sale and only one was left at the store. After I cut up the chicken I ended up with the back, ribs and wings in one packet. If you don’t buy whole chicken you could use any chicken parts. Back and ribs typically sell for very cheap.

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Broth base requires not just chicken but some vegetable and herbs. I root around in my fridge and find whatever I can that is older. In this case I used grated carrot, chopped onions, and some herbs from my freezer. Each year I “put by” celery, cilantro, parsley and young greens from thinning garden rows. I simply wash them thoroughly, drain the water, and put them on a cookie sheet and freeze them. I then put the frozen herbs in freezer backs, loose pack. I can them use them for cooking. The green in this picture are celery leaves, turnip greens and parsley. I like the grated carrot because not only does it give a nice flavour, the carotene adds a nice rich colour. You can use fresh celery and/or dried herbs instead.

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This step is one that requires patience and oil. The whole thing has to gently fry in order to brown the chicken and the vegetables. This step can’t be rushed. If you have the heat to high it will be burn instead of brown. If you don’t do it for long enough, you won’t get the essential brownings that are the real base of the broth. I tend to put this to brown and do the dishes and tidy up the kitchen, pausing to stir it around as it browns. It may need a little more vegetable oil depending on how fatty your chicken it. In this image you see browning about half done. it should take 30 minutes to get the chicken browned and the vegetables cooked.

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I like to do anything that requires a long slow cooking in my crock pot. It saves power and looks neat and the inner crock can go right on the table as a serving dish. When the browning is done, everything goes into the crock pot. I also add a dash of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Adding the salt and sugar chances the osmolarity of the water during cooking so that juices are drawn out and shared in the broth. I know everything these days is about the dangers of salt and sugar, but honestly, it just tastes so much better and we eat very low salt generally so the extra favour is worth it, especially compared to the amount of salt in a typical purchased can of broth. If you like things like pearl barley or lentils and beans that are dried, this is where you would add them.

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The next step both enriches the broth and saves time with the crock pot. One of things that drives me bonkers about the crock pot is that it takes forever to heat up. This means if I don’t get around to getting the soup on until after lunch it won’t have enough cooking time. This step gives me a little more flexibility in addition to flavour. I used a nonstick pan to brown but I still have a sticky mess in the bottom of the pan. So I add just enough water to cover.

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I bring the liquid up to a boil. I scrape the simmering water and the brown stuff comes up. I then dump this hot water with the pan leavings into the crock pot. I repeat this until the pan is almost clean and there is enough liquid in the pot to continue simmering. Because the water goes into the pot already hot, the crock pot doesn’t take hours to heat. Plus the pan goes into the dishwater practically already clean.

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The last step is to boil some water in the kettle and top up the whole pile in the crock pot with boiling water. I then let the broth simmer until the chicken is falling apart. Depending on your crock pot and how much you started with, your time will vary. In my small crock pot, and starting with hot water, it takes about two hours on high or five to six hours on low setting. Once the chicken is falling apart, I lift out the pieces of chicken with a slotted spoon and separate meat from bones. The meat goes back into the pot and I discard the bones.

The broth can be home canned or frozen at this point, if you want to use it for later.

Using the broth for soup:

For soup, you may wish to strain out the cooking vegetables. Some people strain out the cooking vegetables and puree them and add them back in. After this much cooking they won’t add much flavour back in. I usually just leave the cooking vegetables in the broth as is unless I had some thick older stringy type greens. Those I discard with the bones. I then add additional vegetables we like such as potatoes in chunks, carrots, beans, broccoli, squash, or whatever I have handy and simmer until the vegetables are tender but not cooked to mush.

Using the broth for stew:

To turn the broth into a thick stew you need to add about a quarter cup of flour mixed with a cup of cold water. I put flour and water in a jar and shake well before adding. Let it come back to a simmer and it will thicken. You can top it with dumplings.

Using the broth for chowder:

To make a rich chowder, add finely grated potato with the cut up vegetables and let it come back to a boil.

This recipe also works for fish. When I buy fish I have the fish monger fillet it for me but I ask to keep the bones, skin and head and use this same technique to make fish chowder.

Comments? Can I improve? Do you do something similar? Do you have any tips for me? I would love to hear from you.

Does Anyone Remember “In Season”? On making relish.

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When I was a little girl I recall wanting to have a fresh peach so badly the craving had me near tears. It was February and peaches were simply not to be had in Canada. I just had to do without. Peaches were only available in the late summer and early fall when big trucks came labeled with BC Fruits. The closest you could get to a fresh peach outside of their appointed season was to eat peaches in a can.

There is a Jewish tradition of each Sabbath and holiday finding something that is a treat to eat that has just come into season and to say a special blessing as you eat it for the first time in the year. I have noticed that it has become increasingly difficult to find something like that because with our globalized world there is very little that is no longer  available all year. I can always find peaches in the grocery store because peaches come from South America and cold storage has extended the harvest year. I don’t eat canned peaches anymore because I don’t want the sugar in the syrup they are canned in. Yet I find I don’t eat peaches very often anymore either.

Now that I am gardening again, the cycle of the gardening season is back in my life. I planted snow peas, edible pod peas and mid season peas which require shucking. The snow peas were ready first and we had three glorious meals of snow peas before they were all gone. The edible pod peas came next and we feasted on those and they were so delightful we didn’t miss snow peas. The midseason peas arrived and were so delicious we found ourselves eating them straight from the pod. It just didn’t seem worth cooking them. The midseason peas are nearly done but it doesn’t matter because the garden has begun producing green and yellow beans. The corn I planted has just sent up the pollination stems so I expect by the time the beans are finished, we will have fresh corn. And so, through the garden cycle we have a succession of wonderful food to eat but each one is only there a little time to enjoy and then it is done. It is a lot easier to find something for the Sabbath blessing when you have your own garden.

Have we lost or gained by the factory food that is available year round? I suppose in some ways it is always nice to be able to have a peach anytime you want. And yet this has made peaches common place and there is no longer the wonder of a fresh peach in season. And so I am left to wonder, is it that we are accustomed to having peaches all the time that has made them ho hum? Or is it that the factory farm methods that allow mass produced peaches year round have robbed us of taste? Are our palettes dulled or is the fruit itself dull? I suspect the latter. On our trip to BC in fall a few years ago, I happened to drive through a place selling peaches right off the tree. Eating a fresh peach in season directly from the orchard, makes you realize how bland and plain the store bought peaches, readily available year around, actually are. I just don’t like those peaches very much.

In the old days, everything was seasonal and there was always the long winter to fear when no airplane and ships could bring bounty from the southern hemisphere. Those long dark times of potential ever present hunger meant our forebears never took for granted anything grown in summer. You had to put food by for winter and no one would ever waste food by allowing it to rot. Mothers encouraged children to eat more than they should because that layer of fat acquired just before winter might mean making it through the winter when times were lean. If you had an excess of something you put it by anyway because you could always trade it or sell it to someone less fortunate in winter.

Relish is one of those foods invented to avoid wasting food and provide food in winter when food was otherwise scarce. There are at least as many forms of relish as there people who make it and I think perhaps even more because no two relishes made from your own garden produce are ever exactly the same. A traditional relish is put together with vinegar and sugar and salt to preserve it until winter. It is cooked to sterilize it when it is put by so moulds and bacteria don’t eat it in the meantime. A short boiling water bath fixes the seal. Very little else is constant about relish. I hate relish myself but my husband loves it.

Relish is designed to be made from the excess of the garden so it doesn’t go to waste. Too many cucumbers to eat now? Some green tomatoes the slugs munched on that will rot not ripen? Not a problem because these are the staple ingredients of a good relish. And why not throw in the leftover raw store bought corn from three cobs left in the fridge after the big feast, some zucchini tops from zucchinis where blossom rot has ruined the ends, onions accidentally pulled too soon while weeding can be chopped and added, raw cabbage from the end of the head, a bit of horseradish root the neighbour dropped off, and a few hot peppers just starting in the garden but knocked off while hunting peas. Some judicious cutting and soon the pot is full enough to make relish even if there is not enough of any one thing to do anything else.

My husband likes his relish spicey so I used a hot dog relish recipe that called for spice and included turmeric and red pepper and mustard. He tasted it while it bubbled in the pot and pronounced it perfect. And now what was potential garden waste is six jars of very fine hot dog relish. My husband laughed and said for him it is a two year supply. But that’s all right. At some point this winter he will open a jar of hot dog relish and memories of summer will come with the taste and smell and it will all be worth it. And because I made it exactly the way he likes it, instead of the way some large company designed it aimed at the lowest common denominator, chances are it will not last two years. I can’t help but think my great grandmother would be proud of me for growing my own food and using up garden snips and bits instead of just purchasing a jar of relish from the store.