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Showing posts with label chicken soup. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chicken soup. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Passover Chicken and Soup - Delicious and Fun to Make

Making Passover dinner takes a bit of planning, but it doesn't have to be a chore. If you're cooking for a big group, hand out assignments so you don't do all the work. If your kitchen is large enough, invite people over to help. Cooking the dinner with friends and family can be as much a part of a celebration as the meal itself.

Everyone wants to save money these days. But keeping an eye on food costs shouldn't mean cutting corners on quality and flavor. Avoid buying packaged or frozen meals and you'll be way ahead of the game. Besides saving money, you'll be eating healthier food.

On Passover, I practice what I preach by using one chicken to make three dishes. My Jewish mother would be very proud.

For me it's not Passover without matzo ball soup. But soup is only as good as the stock. Canned and packaged chicken broth are very high in salt content and, in my opinion, have an unpleasant flavor. It's much better to make your own.

The broth can be made days ahead, kept in the refrigerator or even frozen. Also, when you buy the chicken, buy a whole one, preferably a free range or organic chicken, and cut it up yourself. Whole chickens cost under $2.00/pound, while chicken parts range from $3.50-$8.00/pound.

Cutting up a Chicken

If you haven't done it before, cutting apart a whole chicken is easier than you think. Having a sharp boning or chef's knife is essential.

To remove the wings, thighs, and legs, slice through the meat and separate at the joints. Cut the wings apart, reserving the tips for the stock. To debone the breasts, glide the knife along the side of the breast bone. As you cut, pull back the breast meat, continuing to slide the knife against the ribs.

For health reasons, I remove the skin and fat from the breasts, legs and thighs. Add the skin and fat to the stock. If you're going to debone the legs and thighs, add those bones to the stock as well.

Drizzle olive oil on the breasts, legs, thighs, and wings. Put them into an air tight container and refrigerate. If you want to freeze them, put the pieces into a Ziploc style plastic bag, squeeze out the air, seal, and freeze.

Here's another tip about freezing the chicken. When you put the pieces into the plastic bag, make sure they don't touch one another. That way, if you need only one piece, say a breast, you can leave the other pieces frozen until you need them.

Chicken Stock

When my mother and grandmother made chicken stock, they added onions, celery, and carrots to the water. I don't because I want the stock to taste of chicken. If I want other flavors, I add them later.

Yield: 2 quarts

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

Skin, wing tips, carcass, and bones from one 4 1/2 pound chicken
4 quarts water

Method

Put the wing tips, skin, carcass, and bones into a large pot with the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 60 minutes. Skim off and discard the foam. The volume will reduce by half.

Strain the stock. Pick off any meat from the carcass and reserve for later use in a salad or a chicken-vegetable soup. Discard the bones and skin.

Refrigerate overnight to easily remove the fat solids. If you're rushed for time and need the stock right away, float a slice of bread on top of the stock to absorb the fat.

The stock can be kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container for a day or two or in the freezer for months.

Matzo Ball Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 30 minutes

For the matzo balls, we use a mix, but if you want to make them from scratch, Mark Bittman has a very good recipe.

Ingredients

1 box matzo ball mix (no soup), Manischewitz, Rokeach, or Streit's
Other ingredients per the directions on the packaged mix
2 quarts chicken stock

Method

Prepare the matzo balls per the directions on the box. Make them large or small as you like. Remember that the size of the matzo ball will double as it cooks in the salted water. 1 box of mix will make 24 small matzo balls or 12 large ones.

Put the chicken stock into a large pot. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the matzo balls from the salted water to the stock. Heat over a medium flame. Because the matzo balls are delicate, don't let the stock boil.

Garlic-Parsley Chicken Breasts

On any other day but Passover, serve the sliced chicken on top of buttered pasta.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, washed, and dried
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the saute pan. Dredge the chicken breasts in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper

Put the breasts in the heated pan, top with parsley and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Slice the breasts and plate. Use a rubber spatula to remove the drippings, garlic, and parsley and spoon onto the slices before serving.

Mushroom-Vegetable Chicken Ragout

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken legs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken thighs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken wings, tips removed, cut apart at the joint
4 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
4 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, roughly chopped
2 carrots, washed, peeled, cut into thick rounds
1 bunch parsley, washed, stems removed, finely chopped
1 large Yukon Gold potato, washed, cut into chunks
4 shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced

Method

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, season with sea salt and pepper, saute the chicken until lightly browned. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels, set aside.

Saute the garlic, shallots, mushrooms, carrots, parsley, and potatoes until lightly browned. Return the chicken to the pan. Add 3 cups of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the meat is tender. There should be 1 cup of broth.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Continue simmering another 10 minutes.

Serve with steamed spinach or broccoli.

Variations

Instead of using potatoes, serve over rice

Add spinach leaves

Add cut up celery

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Store Shiitakes and a Mushroom Soup That's Perfect for Chilly Days

At most supermarkets, shiitakes aren't cheap so they have to be used sparingly. But at Asian markets, they're inexpensive. $3.99/pound at Mitsuwa in Santa Monica and $2.69/pound at SF Supermarket in Little Saigon. At those prices, it's reasonable to buy several pounds.

In general, shiitakes come in two forms: the slender stemmed variety and the ones which are fatter, with thicker stems and caps. Mitsuwa and SF Supermarket sell the fatter variety, which have a meater flavor.

With so many on hand, they can be used liberally in pastas and soups, grilled, and sautéed with garlic and shallots.

But how to store the ones not eaten those first couple of days?

Everyone knows that mushrooms should only be stored in the refrigerator in paper bags because kept in plastic they quickly go bad. Use a brown paper bag--not a white one, which is coated with wax so the moisture stays inside the bag--in combination with paper towels. The moisture that normally accumulates on the outside of the mushroom is absorbed by the layers of paper.

Kept in the refrigerator another week or two, the brown paper bag-paper towel combination acts as a dehydrator pefectly drying the mushrooms. This technique only works successfully with shiitakes.

If by chance any of the dried shiitakes develop mold, discard and keep the good ones. In my experience, more than 95% will dehydrate without harm.

To reconstitute dried shiitakes, put them in a heat proof bowl, pour in enough boiling water to cover, place a smaller bowl on top to keep the mushrooms submerged. Leave for 30 minutes until they soften.

Gently squeeze out the water but reserve the liquid for later use. Cut and discard the stems. At this point the mushroom caps can be cooked as if they were fresh.

Shiitake Mushroom Soup with Garlic

Shiitakes have a meaty, sweet flavor that is deliciously satisfying in this easy-to-make soup, perfect for a drizzly winter day.

Yield: Serves 4

Time: 45 minutes

Ingedients

2 cups shiitake mushrooms, fresh (stems and caps) or reconstituted (stems removed), washed, thin sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
4 shallots or 1 small yellow onion, peeled, findely chopped
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

In a large sauce pan, sauté the mushrooms, garlic, and shallots with the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the chicken stock and, if using reconstituted mushrooms, 1/2 cup of the soaking water. Simmer 30 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.

Variations

Substitute water for the chicken stock to make a vegetarian version, in which case simmer the mushrooms a bit longer and add 1 tablespoon of butter for flavor

Season with 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Add to the saute 4 cups spinach leaves, washed, stems removed, roughly chopped

Add to the saute and brown 2 Italian sausages, roughly chopped,

Add to the saute and brown 1 chicken breast, roughly chopped

Add to the saute 1 cup fresh, deveined shrimp, roughly chopped

Add to the soup 1/4 cup cream and 1 tablespoon butter

Add to the soup at the end 2 packages ramen noodles cooked first in boiling water for 10 minutes then divided equally among the 4 servings

Friday, April 3, 2009

One Chicken Makes Matzo Ball Soup, Garlic-Parsley Chicken Breasts, and Chicken Ragout

Making Passover dinner takes a bit of planning, but it doesn't have to be a chore. If you're cooking for a big group, hand out assignments so you don't do all the work. If your kitchen is large enough, invite people over to help. Cooking the dinner with friends and family can be as much a part of a celebration as the meal itself.

Everyone wants to save money these days. But keeping an eye on food costs shouldn't mean cutting corners on quality and flavor. Avoid buying packaged or frozen meals and you'll be way ahead of the game. Besides saving money, you'll be eating healthier food.

On Passover, I practice what I preach by using one chicken to make three dishes. My Jewish mother would be very proud.

For me it's not Passover without matzo ball soup. But soup is only as good as the stock. Canned and packaged chicken broth are very high in salt content and, in my opinion, have an unpleasant flavor. It's much better to make your own.

The broth can be made days ahead, kept in the refrigerator or even frozen. Also, when you buy the chicken, buy a whole one, preferably a free range or organic chicken, and cut it up yourself. Whole chickens cost under $2.00/pound, while chicken parts range from $3.50-$8.00/pound.

Cutting up a Chicken

If you haven't done it before, cutting apart a whole chicken is easier than you think. Having a sharp boning or chef's knife is essential.

To remove the wings, thighs, and legs, slice through the meat and separate at the joints. Cut the wings apart, reserving the tips for the stock. To debone the breasts, glide the knife along the side of the breast bone. As you cut, pull back the breast meat, continuing to slide the knife against the ribs.

For health reasons, I remove the skin and fat from the breasts, legs and thighs. Add the skin and fat to the stock. If you're going to debone the legs and thighs, add those bones to the stock as well.

Drizzle olive oil on the breasts, legs, thighs, and wings. Put them into an air tight container and refrigerate. If you want to freeze them, put the pieces into a Ziploc style plastic bag, squeeze out the air, seal, and freeze.

Here's another tip about freezing the chicken. When you put the pieces into the plastic bag, make sure they don't touch one another. That way, if you need only one piece, say a breast, you can leave the other pieces frozen until you need them.

Chicken Stock

When my mother and grandmother made chicken stock, they added onions, celery, and carrots to the water. I don't because I want the stock to taste of chicken. If I want other flavors, I add them later.

Yield: 2 quarts

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

Skin, wing tips, carcass, and bones from one 4 1/2 pound chicken
4 quarts water

Method

Put the wing tips, skin, carcass, and bones into a large pot with the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 60 minutes. Skim off and discard the foam. The volume will reduce by half.

Strain the stock. Pick off any meat from the carcass and reserve for later use in a salad or a chicken-vegetable soup. Discard the bones and skin.

Refrigerate overnight to easily remove the fat solids. If you're rushed for time and need the stock right away, float a slice of bread on top of the stock to absorb the fat.

The stock can be kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container for a day or two or in the freezer for months.

Matzo Ball Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 30 minutes

For the matzo balls, we use a mix, but if you want to make them from scratch, Mark Bittman has a very good recipe.

Ingredients

1 box matzo ball mix (no soup), Manischewitz, Rokeach, or Streit's
Other ingredients per the directions on the packaged mix
2 quarts chicken stock

Method

Prepare the matzo balls per the directions on the box. Make them large or small as you like. Remember that the size of the matzo ball will double as it cooks in the salted water. 1 box of mix will make 24 small matzo balls or 12 large ones.

Put the chicken stock into a large pot. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the matzo balls from the salted water to the stock. Heat over a medium flame. Because the matzo balls are delicate, don't let the stock boil.

Garlic-Parsley Chicken Breasts

On any other day but Passover, serve the sliced chicken on top of buttered pasta.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, washed, and dried
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the saute pan. Dredge the chicken breasts in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper

Put the breasts in the heated pan, top with parsley and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Slice the breasts and plate. Use a rubber spatula to remove the drippings, garlic, and parsley and spoon onto the slices before serving.

Mushroom-Vegetable Chicken Ragout

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken legs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken thighs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken wings, tips removed, cut apart at the joint
4 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
4 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, roughly chopped
2 carrots, washed, peeled, cut into thick rounds
1 bunch parsley, washed, stems removed, finely chopped
1 large Yukon Gold potato, washed, cut into chunks
4 shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced

Method

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, season with sea salt and pepper, saute the chicken until lightly browned. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels, set aside.

Saute the garlic, shallots, mushrooms, carrots, parsley, and potatoes until lightly browned. Return the chicken to the pan. Add 3 cups of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the meat is tender. There should be 1 cup of broth.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Continue simmering another 10 minutes.

Serve with steamed spinach or broccoli.

Variations

Instead of using potatoes, serve over rice

Add spinach leaves

Add cut up celery

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Oklahoma Road Trip: Chicken Soup and Apple Pie

On a trip through Oklahoma, I was reminded again how deliciously satisfying homemade food can be in restaurants off the beaten path.

We had traveled north from Tulsa, stopping in Pawhuska to visit Ryan Red Corn whose t-shirt company Demockratees is an internet sensation.

Ryan's politically savvy t-shirt designs speak to his reaction to the Bush administration's policies. With Barack Obama's election, Ryan has the opportunity to use his considerable talent to create more inspirational designs.

For breakfast Ryan and his dad, Raymond, took us to a local institution, Sally's Cafe. With a long counter out front and an over-sized table behind the kitchen, Sally's is an authentic diner from the 1930's.

Sitting at a table in the back where Sally was making pies, we had a country breakfast that was as good as it gets; farm fresh eggs, potatoes browned in butter, and home cured ham that was a perfect balance of sweet and salty. For dessert we had a piece of Sally's fresh apple pie, the crust perfectly flaky, the apples soft and tart with just a hint of cinnamon.

Heading south-west, we drove to Pawnee on our way back to Tulsa, passing through countryside that varied from open pasture land to starkly beautiful, wooded hill country. After the long drive we were definitely ready for a big lunch.

Just off Highway 64 in Pawnee, we stopped at Click's Steakhouse. Soup and salad were included in the lunch specials. Everything we ordered (steak, baked potatoes, fried okra, and a hamburger steak) was good, but the homemade soup revived us after so many hours on the road. I couldn't get Click's recipe so I'm offering up my own that adheres to Click's reliance on fresh ingredients.

Chicken Soup With Mushrooms & Rice

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

6 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1/2 cup cooked rice (wild, Japanese, or Chinese)
1/2 cup brown mushrooms (washed, thinly sliced)
1/2 cup cooked chicken breast (shredded into bite sized pieces)
1/4 cup celery (washed, finely diced)
1/4 cup yellow onion (washed, peeled, finely diced)
1 tablespoon Italian parsley (washed, leaves only, finely chopped)
1 teaspoon olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Heat the olive oil and lightly brown the mushrooms, celery, onions, and parsley. Add the chicken breast and stock. Simmer for 15 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Before serving, add the rice and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with bread, rolls, or croutons.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Happy Birthday, the Oxtail Soup is in the Freezer

We don't see our older son, Frank, as often as we'd like. He's started a new job and moved across town to West Hollywood so it isn't easy to coordinate our busy schedules. We miss our time together, especially the chance to have a meal and catch up. As a parent, one of my pleasures is cooking for the boys. Since Frank can't always come to us, we've worked out a way that the food can get to him.

When my mom moved back to California from Costa Rica, she didn't enjoy cooking any longer. Her apartment had a full kitchen but she pretty much survived on microwaved food. When she came to our house, we'd make her home-cooked meals but that wasn't often enough, only once every several months. In time we came up with a plan. Whenever we'd visit her, we'd fill her freezer with food I'd prepared so she'd have home-cooked meals whenever she wanted. Frank gets the benefit of that well-rehearsed system. As often as possible I try to do the same for him.

When he was growing up one of his favorite dishes was oxtail soup. Since his birthday is tomorrow, I thought that would be a nice addition to his freezer.

Oxtail Soup

Foods freeze well when a liquid coats the surface. Meat rubbed with olive oil survives freezing without any damage. Soups and stews do well because the food bits are submerged in liquid. The oxtail meat is succulent, but it takes several hours of braising to coax out all of its considerable flavor.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 4 hours + overnight in the refrigerator

Ingredients

2 pounds oxtails (washed)
4 carrots (washed, ends trimmed, peeled, cut into 1" rounds)
8 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
2 medium yellow onions (peeled, ends trimmed, roughly chopped)
1 cup Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped)
30 whole peppercorns
2 cups mushrooms (washed, sliced) portabella, shiitake, or brown
2 medium tomatoes (washed)
3 ounces tomato paste (preferably an Italian brand like Cento)
1/4 pound green beans (ends trimmed, cut into 2" lengths)
1 small bunch spinach (ends trimmed, washed thoroughly, roughly chopped)
2 ears of corn (husks and silks removed, cut into 2" lengths or kernels removed from the cob)
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or piece of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove, let cool, pull off the skin, and roughly chop. In a large dutch oven brown the oxtails with olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper, remove from the pan, pour off the excess fat and lightly brown 2 carrots, 1 chopped onion, 4 garlic cloves, the Italian parsley, 20 whole peppercorns, and 1 cup of the mushroom slices. Return the oxtails to the pan along with the chopped roasted tomatoes and 8 cups of water. Cover and simmer for 3 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.

Remove the oxtails from the liquid, let cool, remove the meat and discard the bones. Strain out the cooked vegetables and discard. Return the meat to the liquid and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning skim off and discard the fat. Lightly brown the remaining vegetables with olive oil and the 10 whole peppercorns. Add the meat and soup, stir in the tomato paste and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt. Serve with a fresh baguette, a plate of plain pasta or a mashed potato, and a salad.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Loteria! Grill Hollywood

Growing up in LA, you eat a lot of Mexican food. For the most part the standard fare of tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, toquitos, and quesadillas are enjoyable but not always memorable.

Once in awhile there's a standout. When I first ate at the Loteria! Grill, the mole was a revelation.

Just about everyone we know has eaten at the original Loteria! Grill at the Farmers Market. Located in the geographic center of the Market, there is always a line waiting to order. The lunch time crowd tends to be tourists and people who work in the area. At night families have dinner before they go to the multiplex at the Grove.

For Jimmy Shaw, the chef-owner, Loteria! Grill is a passion project. Born into a family of cooks, trained by his mother in their Mexico City home, Jimmy opened the Grill because so many of his friends missed the taste of authentic Mexican food. An instant success, the Farmers' Market Loteria! Grill was the talk of LA.

Looking to the east Jimmy has opened Loteria! Grill Hollywood, a restaurant-bar in the heart of Hollywood (6627 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood 90028, 323/465-2500) next door to Geisha House.

With an open space and high ceiling, the interior has the feeling of a modern cantina. Jimmy held onto the favorites from the Farmers' Market menu: his incomparable mole sauce, the comforting tortilla soup, the perfectly seasoned black beans...

There are so many great dishes, a first-timer can get an overview by circumnavigating the menu with the Probaditas Sampler and its dozen mini tacos on hand-made tortillas. Sit at the bar, order an ice cold margarita, and you'll be happy for the rest of the evening.

We were part of a lucky group invited to a preview dinner. Served practically every dish on the menu, our favorites were the Mole Poblano con Pollo (of course), the Sopa de Tortilla (ditto), the Champinones con Epazote (mushrooms with Eeazote), the Albondigas En Chipotle (meatballs in a tomato and chipolte Sauce), the Enchiladas de Mole (with chicken), the Summer Salad, the Guacamole y Chips, the Aguas Frescas (watermelon, lemonade, horchata)... I'm probably giving away the fact that we enjoyed every dish.

Jimmy was so generous in letting us sample the menu that we found ourselves with food to spare. Not one to waste food I braved the embarrassment of carrying out to-go containers and took home some of the Carnitas en salsa Morita (pork in a spicy sauce), the black beans, and rice. The next day I was happy to have such terrific ingredients and made a delicious soup. Our friends Ron and Annette came over for our weekly Sunday dinner and we served the soup as the main course. We raised our glasses to toast Jimmy Shaw, to thank his mother for teaching him how to cook, and to our returning to Loteria! Grill Hollywood.

Black Beans, Farmers' Market Vegetables, and Spicy Pork Soup

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup cooked black beans
1 cup cooked pork
1 small onion, washed, peeled, finely chopped
1 slice of bacon, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 ear of corn, washed, kernels cut off the cob
1 carrot, washed, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup cooked rice
Olive oil
Pepper

Method

In a large sauce pan sauté the onions, garlic, bacon, corn, carrots, and parsley in the olive oil until lightly browned. Shred the meat and add to the sauté. If you are using pork, chicken, or beef that is already seasoned, then you may not need to add any heat. Taste and add Tabasco or taco sauce as needed.

Add the black beans and chicken stock. Simmer for 30 minutes. Just before serving reheat the rice in a microwave oven. Put 1/4 cup of rice in the bottom of each soup bowl, then ladle in the hot soup.

Variations

For a vegetarian version, don't use the meat, bacon, or chicken stock (use 4 cups water + 1 tablespoon butter instead).

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley

Substitute cooked chicken or beef for the pork

Add 3 cups of spinach leaves (washed, stems removed, roughly chopped) to the sauté

Add 1 cup chopped raw shrimp (washed, deveined) to the sauté

Add 1 cup grilled sausage rounds

Top with homemade croutons and shredded cheddar cheese when serving

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ramen at Home, Quick and Easy

At some point in their lives, everyone eats Cup o' Noodles. They're so easy to make. Just pour boiling water into the styrofoam cup with it's nest of noodles and bits of dried vegetables, cover, and a minute later you have overly salted "soup" and mushy noodles. On a cold, drizzly day, that can be ok, but it's not a meal-of-choice. Ramen is a step up from Cup o' Noodles, but the same principle applies. Boiling water + instant noodles + "flavor packet" = soup and noodles with vegetables bits. Real ramen bears no resemblance to the packaged ramen in the market. In Japan, ramen restaurants are favorite neighorhood hangouts, usually with a counter and several tables. I've noticed that patrons in ramen restaurants don't do as much talking as they do in other kinds of restaurants. I think that's because the ramen is simply too delicious to want to talk.

People who love ramen get very obsessive about their noodles. The Official Ramen Homepage has hundreds of recipes for packaged ramen contributed by fans. Rickmond Wong is the ramen fan-extraordinaire. Profiled in the LA Times by Russ Parsons, Wong's web site rameniac.com gives a comprehensive survey of ramen restaurants in LA. Everyone has their favorite. Anne Lai sent me to Little Tokyo to try the ramen at Daikokuya (327 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles 90012, 212/626-1680).

A narrow passageway of a restaurant, Daikokuya is on the north side of 1st Street, half-way between San Pedro and Alameda. Of the half-dozen ramen restaurants on the block, only Daikokuya is packed with people at the tables and bar. Besides ramen, Daikokuya also has other traditional Japanese dishes: rice bowls, bento boxes, chicken teriyaki, mixed tempura, pork cutlet, sushi, and sashimi. But it's the ramen I came for, and while there are a dozen varieties to try, I wanted the specialty of the house: Daikoku Ramen, a large bowl of pork soup with noodles, fatty Kurobuta pork, a whole boiled egg, seasoned bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and green onions.

I took my place at the counter and watched the cooks drop baskets of noodles into the large pot of boiling water. The customer to my right, Jason, could tell I was a first-timer. He helpfully suggested I add some of the minced garlic and pickled ginger condiments to the soup. A good call.

All the ingredients are delicious, but it's the soup itself that makes the ramen at Daikokuya so memorable. If you've seen the Japanese comedy, Tampopo, you know how hard the shop keeper struggles to perfect her pork bone broth. She has to work from early in the morning until late in the evening to get the flavors just right.

I like to adapt restaurant techniques to cooking at home, but while I love the broth, that's too much work for me. I'll use homemade chicken stock instead. What I do take away from Daikokuyo is the realization that fresh ingredients can turn a lifeless package of noodles into a sumptuously refreshing meal.

At home, ramen is quick and easy to make as long as you have a good supply of homemade chicken stock in your freezer. For the dried ramen noodles, there are hundreds of brands, flavors, and varieties. Try to find one that has the least amount of chemicals in their ingredients' list. Health Food stores sometimes carry packages of organic ramen. Almost any of your favorite fresh vegetables and cooked meats will work.


Ramen at Home
Yield: 1 serving
Time: 20 minutes
Ingredients

1 package ramen
½ carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
½ cup broccoli crowns, washed, sliced
1 shallot, peeled, thin sliced
2 Italian parsley sprigs, washed, use only the leaves, whole or chopped
½ cup shredded chicken, cooked
2 cups homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon scallions, washed, sliced into rounds, green and white parts (optional)
1 hardboiled egg, sliced (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Method

Follow the directions on the package to make the ramen noodles, then drain them and set aside. In a small pot, sauté the vegetables and chicken in the sesame oil until lightly browned, add the chicken stock and soy sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cooked noodles. Stir well and serve in a large bowl, topped with the scallions and the hardboiled egg if you want.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Twofer: Roast Chicken with Fresh Rosemary & Chicken Stock to Use Later

Every home cook has one foolproof recipe. Mine is a roasted chicken with fresh rosemary. Easy to make and, with just one more step, the recipe produces a quart of homemade chicken stock.

Rubbing on olive oil and seasoning the outside with fresh rosemary, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper adds layers of flavor to the chicken as it roasts.

The chicken can be prepped ahead, trussed and seasoned, then wrapped in plastic wrap, put into a Ziploc bag, and either refrigerated or frozen. What I've learned with beef and chicken is that seasoned oil protects the meat from being effected by freezing.

Prepared this way, even the most ordinary supermarket chicken will taste good. Finding a better quality chicken will improve the flavors. Antibiotic-free chickens should always be preferred for health reasons, although I'm not entirely certain that you can taste the difference. In my experience there's no question that a Kosher chicken and free range, organic chickens do taste better. The meat is more tender, the flavor "cleaner." In Los Angeles, Trader Joe's carries several varieties of high quality chickens, as do upscale markets like Gelson's, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats. The best place to buy the freshest, healtiest chickens is at a local farmers' markets. In our neighborhood, Lily's Farm sells the freshest eggs and chickens at the Santa Monica and Palisades's Farmers' Markets. The prices for these chickens vary greatly: $1.29/lb at Ralph's to $3.75/lb for Lilly's. If you can afford it, you'll taste the difference.

Roast Chicken with Rosemary

1 whole chicken, 3 ½-4 ½ lbs., washed, pat dried
Fresh rosemary, a 2" sprig, washed, the leaves removed
2 cloves garlic, peeled, thinly julienned
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Line the bottom of a roasting pan with tin foil to help with clean up. Put a small rack on top of the tin foil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

With kitchen twine, tie the legs together and the wings. Rub the olive oil all over the chicken, season with sea salt, black pepper, garlic, and the rosemary leaves. Put the chicken on the rack breast side down and put in the oven for 60 minutes.

Using tongs, turn the chicken over and return to the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and check for doneness: the legs should move easily and the juices should run clear. If needed to make the skin crisp, roast a final 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. If you're going to make a gravy, now's the time to transfer the pan drippings to a small sauce pan, add a pat of butter and 3 tablespoons of chicken stock and quickly reduce.

The chicken can be presented whole or cut apart so the pieces are easier to serve and can be served with a great many side dishes. A plain green salad with the chicken is perfect for a simple meal. Adding roasted vegetables, like potatoes, string beans, asparagus, or Brussels sprouts, makes a feast. If you want a gravy, that's easy enough, just make a simple reduction of the pan drippings, a pat of sweet butter, and a few tablespoons of chicken stock. Delicious.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 2 hours.

Homemade Chicken Stock

To make the chicken stock, just gather up all the bones and put them into a large pot with 3 quarts of water. Simmer for 60 minutes. Strain out the bones and discard. Refrigerate the stock. In the morning, peel off the fat and discard. The stock will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days or, put into pint sized Ziploc bags, for several months in the freezer. Use the stock to make sauces or soups.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Cooking Time: 60 minutes.