Monday, November 25, 2013

The One: Roasted vegetables and Chicken stock

Sometimes, in fumbling around cooking and trying out different things, you stumble across a recipe that turns out - strangely and incomprehensibly - perfect. It is The One. The one that you have subconsciously been looking for. In fact, all the other recipes you tried were but pale shadows of the One.

In the last few months, I bookmarked two separate recipes from two different blogs and only got around to trying them out recently. One was from The Wednesday Chef, titled "The Best Roasted Vegetables Ever". The other was from Smitten Kitchen - "Perfect Uncluttered Chicken Stock".  Really, the blog titles should have given it away; they both turned out to be The One in each of their categories. 


The best roasted vegetables ever.

They were! And so easy too - the prep takes hardly 20 minutes and then you can pop them into the oven and walk away for a full hour. I used to make my roasted veg exactly like how Luisa Weiss described her former roasted veg style - chop the veg into small chunks, mess about with oil and toss it into the oven with the heat turned up high. This one is different. For this one, you take out your baking dish and pile the veg in willy-nilly. In layers. All messy-like. Then it goes into the oven for a long long time on slooow heat. The onions caramelize, the potatoes turn soft and sweet and the eggplant soaks up all the tomato juice and becomes this mess of flavour. 

Roasted Vegetables 
Serves 3-4 (?) as a side dish
1 medium onion
1 eggplant
1 small potato
5 small tomatoes
1 red or yellow pepper
A handful of mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary, wild fennel are all good choices - either individually or combined in some form)
5 to 6 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Quarter and slice the onion thinly. Dice all the vegetables into pieces that are approximately the same size (no larger than 1/2 inch). Pile the vegetables into a baking dish so that the vegetables lie a few inches thick. Season with salt, pepper and herbs to taste and then pour the olive oil over the vegetables. Mix thoroughly but gently - you don't want to destroy the tomatoes before the dish goes into the oven. Now check the vegetables to make sure they are well-coated and glistening with oil. If need be, add more oil.
2. Put the dish in the oven and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Halfway through the cooking process, remove the dish from the oven and very gently stir the vegetables so that the ones at the bottom come to the top. Towards the end of the cooking process, stir a second time. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Check for seasoning and serve.

Note: The original recipe had both zucchini and carrots. I omitted them because I don't like zucchini... actually I also don't really like carrots. I subbed in some mushrooms instead. I don't know how many people this recipe would feed - I made it for two and had leftovers so theoretically, it could feed up to 4 as a side dish?
Also, the leftovers are delicious. 


Deb Perelman calls it "Perfect, uncluttered chicken stock". 

I call it the easiest,  most chicken-y chicken stock - ever. Really really. And I've made my fair share of chicken stock. Including the kind that require you to stand at the stove skimming the scum off for the first hour(I really hate those).  And yet, after all that work, there would be this water-y, slightly bland tasting stock. I dutifully used those but deep inside, I always felt let down. Plus it was so much work! All the faffing about with carrots and celery. 

Until yesterday. Friends, we have a winner. This is The One. The stock I have been looking for, yearning to taste but only achieved last night. 

This is also how I would describe it. 

You know how you eat Maggi chicken flavoured instant noodles and there's this MSG laden stock that comes with it? You know how the flavour is somehow intensely chicken-y - the essence of chicken distilled into a yellow liquid? You know how home-made stock somehow never tastes like that? 

This one does. But without the icky MSG. I tell you, this is the One

The Best Chicken Stock Ever (The One You Have Been Looking for)
(Adapted very slightly from Smitten Kitchen)

900 g to 1kg uncooked chicken winglets and drumlets
1onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon table salt 
Water - enough to fill the slow cooker. 

Place all ingredients in a slow-cooker. Cook on low for about 8 hours.
Strain out chicken parts, onion and garlic. The stock is now ready to use, or, you could put it in the fridge to chill until any fat solidifies on the top. There was very little fat to strain out though so I might skip this step next time. 

When chilled, the stock becomes this gelatinous mess (I wanted to dance when I saw that - none of my other recipes have yielded this before!). The standard explanation for this is that the bones have released their natural gelatin(?), collagen (?) and so the stock will turn into a jelly like substance when chilled. 


Deb Perelman used only 1 garlic clove - Mr Grey and I love garlic so I upped it to 3 - which was the original recipe anyway. She also has a huge amount of helpful info on storing the chicken stock, freezing it etc so please check out the link above if you have any questions. I try to be helpful, but between me and Ms Perelman, she is obviously the "si fu", I am but an amateur.

She also uses a much larger slow cooker - I sized the recipe down a bit. Yes, I do realise that chicken wings/winglets/drumlets are rather expensive. But so are commercially made chicken stock packets and they all have MSG, so between that and just making this myself, I'll rather make this. Besides, the chicken can be shredded up and used if you stop the cooking at around the 8 hour mark as I did. You can use the chicken in chinese chicken congee or Malay mee soto. If you have a pet, you can also shred it carefully and feed it to your pet but please be careful - chicken bones might choke your dog or cat.

Final note: Children of the '80s, remember that Gardenia bread ad? The one with the chorus "so good you can eat it on its own!". Well, that line applies perfectly to this stock - it was so good, I wanted to drink it all up on its own.

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