I can squeeze quite a few dollars in savings out of a standard roast chicken.
First, there is the meal that I made initially.
The first meal
Then I can usually glean off enough good chicken meat to make a few chicken salad sandwiches.
Chicken salad sandwiches!
After that, there isn’t much left but skeletal remains, but there is still a lot of meat to be had. The pro’lem is how to get at it in an efficient manner without driving yourself to the precipice of insanity.
Ready for the pot
I usually save up a few carcasses – at least 3 – before rendering them into carcass soup. It seems that one or two remains of bird’s past just don’t lend enough flavor to the soup. Sure, you could throw in some bullion cubes, but I don’t ever seem to have any of those around.
You’re going to need your big pot. Don’t think that you can get away with anything less, you’ll be sorry sooner than later. I know it’s a pain to clean, but you’ll appreciate the high side walls when things get rolling.
I boil down my chicken carcasses until the meat and bones are easily separated. You’ll know when that time has arrived by probing your cauldron with a stout wooden spoon. When you can mash things down easily, it is time.
Then, I separate the meat and the bones. Initially I pull out anything making its presence known right from the pot, but then I do a more thorough selection on the cutting board. Reason is, there is an awful lot of undesirable looking things that boil down out of a chicken carcass. It isn’t that difficult of a process, really. And there is no need to be overly picky about it when you have three carcasses to work with. If it doesn’t look right, or if you wouldn’t want to spoon it into your pie hole, get rid of it.
All of that meat gets put off to the side, to be added later.
About now is when I start drinking. Because, as the ol’ man taught me, ‘when we cook, we drink.’ Slainte`.
Even a practiced hand will miss a small bone or two. This is home-made soup, not that canned crapola you slop into a pot and splash water on top of. By its very nature there is going to be some things that will need to be picked out and discarded, and those things will only come to light when you have them in your mouth. Don’t bitch about it, just enjoy. And a good home-made carcass soup is to be enjoyed, savored, eaten slower than the can of chicken and stars you slurped up at lunch.
And it is better for you, too. When you sum the total of the parts of a good carcass soup you will find a few major food groups represented: Protein (chicken), starch (potatoes), vegetables (all the other stuff). You even nudge up your total water intake for the day. Serve with bread and you can put a tic mark in the ‘grains’ category.
Turning my attention back to the pot, what I am left with is essentially chicken stock. Here is where the culinary skills of a well seasoned (got that, seasoned?) carcass soup maker come into play, as a carcass soup tends the be a manifest of produce long forgotten at the bottom of the freezer, back of the pantry and/or rear end of the crisper drawer in the fridge.
Carrots, celery, potatoes, onions. Those ingredients are always around somewhere, in various stages of decay. I like to drop in a turnip (parsnip, rutabaga or what have you). I usually don’t have one of those lying around, so if I have carcass soup on my mind at the previous food shopping trip, I will purchase one or two.
A word about turnips. You don’t need many. A small friggin’ turnip will go a long way in flavoring your cauldron. No need to purchase the soft ball sized rutabaga, a small one will do nicely. I always like to get one with a little purple on top, because it just seems so novel.
Herbs and spices. I rummage around in the freezer and usually come up with one or more of the following: Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (I tip my hat to Simon and Garfunkle, obviously stoners, because who, save for a couple of stoners, could ever write a song about four herbs in the spice rack?).
Salt and pepper. Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, not the hip-hop girl duo from the 80’s. Accept no substitutes.
And don’t give me a hard time about the salt. Soup, pasta and potatoes all need salt to taste good. It’s just the way it goes. Fresh cracked black? Tell me you don’t enjoy gnashing a small piece of black pepper between your teeth every now and again when eating soup, go ahead, tell me, and I won’t invite you over for any of mine.
After the veggies are all swimming nicely with the herbs and things are getting nice and soft, turn off the heat and add the chicken meat. Doing it in this manner keeps it from over cooking.
Multi-tasking. When I spin off a carcass soup, I can usually get the dishwasher emptied, put a load of clothes into the washer and one into the drier, as well as catch up on the daily news and weather. All that, and have dinner ready by the time the family comes through the door. Boo-ya!
The smell. Your dwelling will fill with the splendid aroma of cooking soup. As soon as anyone comes through the door, they will begin to salivate, peppering you with questions – what are you cooking? Ooh, soup… Is it ready yet? Can I try some? What time is dinner?
Enjoy it, novella sous chef, that you are, they are all compliments.
A word or two about starches. Potatoes hold up fairly well in a soup. Rice, noodles and pasta do not. Those things will work fine for the initial offering, enhancing the soup nicely.
However, if you have made more than one meal sitting in your soup pot, and you should with three carcasses and all, what will happen is that the lesser starches will break down quite a bit, thickening your soup into a viscous gruel. It won’t become apparent until after you pull it out of the fridge and you have what essentially looks like chicken jello.
Everyone likes soup. No one likes gruel.
But fret not! For your chicken jello will heat back to a nice, thick soup on the stove. Notice ‘stove’. The microwave will render your chicken jello into luke-warm gruel.
And no one likes gruel.
How does one avoid said gruel transformation? You hold off on the rice, pasta or noodles until serving time. More work? Sure it is. But if you want your next batch of carcass soup to be eaten and not sit in the fridge until it becomes a science project, you’ll gladly make them on the side.