Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The hottest new food trend?

Alright, it took me awhile to get on board with the no-knead bread, and sadly, I was one of the last to start baking with Dorie. But this time, I'm jumping on the bandwagon in record time! I've already made two batches of homemade chicken stock using....wait for it....CHICKEN FEET! Yes, you heard me--FEET! I first read about this venerable but wacky idea on Elise's excellent blog, and then the lovely gal at Just the Right Size had to try and replicate the tasty experiment with great success. So I thought, why don't I give it a whirl, too? But just try to find a source for chicken feet in teeny tiny Plattsburgh, I dare you! I never really thought I would, but I felt certain that my old school butcher in Covey Hill (QC) could hook me up. But even they shook their heads, chuckled, and suggested I try Chinatown the next time I was in Montreal. So I did just that. When we were up there two weekends ago, we hit up an Asian grocery store just around the corner from Jean-Talon, and I got four pounds--enough for two batches--for less than six bucks. Score! We did stop at Le Quartier Chinois later, but that was to grab dinner at a great place called Keung Kee on Rue la Gauchetiere to take home. I chose salt and pepper fried shrimp, General Tso's chicken, and spicy beef and black bean sauce with wide rice noodles. DELISH! But back to the chicken feet...

Making stock is a great project for a lazy Sunday afternoon. There is some initial prep involved, but then you can go away for hours and just let it do its thing--take a nap, watch a movie, spend some quality time with your dogs (or human loved ones, if you insist). It'll make your house smell great, and when it's all over, you'll have the richest, most flavorful stock imaginable, and it will have the most incredible body due to all the collagen in those feet. In fact, when you refrigerate it, it will solidify into chicken Jell-O! But that weird jelly will add an amazing flavor and texture to all of the recipes in which you choose to use it. Ok, brace yourself....I'm going to show you what they look like. No screaming now!

STOP THAT! I said no screaming! Man up, will ya? You sound like a cowardly little girl! I realize that they look like little fingers complete with glamour-length Lee Press-On's (note to self: consider scary Halloween party possibilities). Nevertheless, they are TASTY little fingers! And why should we be any more horrified by using the feet than we are by eating the wings? And you don't even really eat the feet. Well, some Asian folks do, but I'm not yet ready to go that far. After all, I have chickens, and I know where those feet have been and what gets on 'em! Eww! This is why most recipes for chicken feet stock begin with a five minute pre-boil--surely, to rid them of any lingering impurities. Then you drain and rinse them, and at last, begin making the stock in earnest. Here are the instructions from Adele Davis' book, Let's Cook It Right, via Simply Recipes.

Chicken Feet Stock ("...and I don't care!" Sing it!)

2 pounds of chicken feet
2 large carrots, cut in half
1 onion, cut into wedges
2 celery ribs, cut in half
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
10 peppercorns

1 Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Put the chicken feet into a large stock pot and cover with boiling water. Boil for 5 minutes. Use a large metal spoon to skim and discard the scum that rises to the surface.

2 Drain the chicken feet completely. Rinse with cold water so that the feet are cool enough to handle. Using a sharp knife, chop off the tips of the claws and discard (I used kitchen shears for this). They should cut easily if you cut them through the joint. If any rough patches of claw pad remain, cut them away with a pairing knife. (Mine did not have any of these little poultry calluses, thankfully!)

3 Place chicken feet in a clean large stockpot. Fill with cold water to cover the feet by an inch. Add carrots, onions, celery, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer, immediately reduce the temperature to low. Partially cover, leave about a half inch crack or so, and keep the stock cooking at a bare simmer, for 4 hours. Occasionally skim any foam that may come to the surface. Uncover, increase the heat slightly to maintain a low simmer with the pot now uncovered. Continue to cook for an hour or two. At this point you are reducing the stock so that it is easier to store. Strain the stock through several layers of cheesecloth (I used a doubled flour sack towel) or a fine mesh strainer (ideally both) into a pot. Pour into quart-sized jars. Let cool for an hour or so before storing in the refrigerator.

When your stock has cooled, it should firm up nicely into a gel. Makes approximately 2 quarts.
(I made a double batch, but I forgot to cover my pots as the stock reduced, so I only ended up with three, not four, quarts. Oh well. Even more concentrated chicken-y flavor...can't be a bad thing!)

So what did I do with the fabulous result, you ask? Well, first, I made a shortcut version of one of my favorite dishes, chicken and noodles using a rotisserie chicken, some authentic German spaetzle, cream of chicken soup, and the glorious homemade stock. So good! Then last night, I made another dish, largely of my own creation. My idea was to make sausage and cheese ravioli using won ton skins, cook them in the lush stock, and then finish them with a chicken-y Alfredo sauce of sorts. And I must tell you, it worked like a charm and tasted UNBELIEVABLE! I was mostly making it up as I went along, but I will attempt to transcribe a recipe that can be recreated.

Won Ton Ravioli with Chicken Alfredo Sauce
(Makes about 14 large ravioli)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 pound Italian sausages, casings removed
1/2 large onion, diced
1 small carrot, grated
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dried parsley (or fresh, if you have it on hand)
1/2 cup water
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

26-28 won ton wrappers
egg wash (one egg beaten with a tablespoon of water)
1 quart homemade chicken stock

4 tablespoons butter
1 (to 1 1/2) cups half and half
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, brown the sausage in the olive oil and butter along with the onion, carrot, mushrooms, and garlic. (I used a pepper sausage this time, but if I had used regular Italian sausage, I would have also chopped up half a red bell pepper to add to my saute.) Add the pepper flakes and parsley, and the half cup of water. Reduce for a few minutes, then turn off the heat. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes (it can be warm, but not hot), then add the ricotta, the parmesan, and the egg. Stir to mix well. Season to taste.

On a work surface, lay out one won ton wrapper, fill with about a tablespoon of the sausage filling, brush around the edges with egg wash, and top with another wrapper. Do a preliminary seal on your work surface, then pick the raviolo up to seal all the way around with more gusto. Reserve on a large sheet pan and continue making the rest of your ravioli. (This would be fun to do with kids...if I had any.)

Rinse out the big saute pan and then add your chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and slide in half of your prepared ravioli. Simmer on one side for three minutes, and then flip each one and simmer on the other side for an additional two minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula and repeat the process with the rest of the ravioli.

If necessary, you may wish the reduce the remaining stock a bit. (My chicken feet stock was plenty thick when I was done simmering all the ravioli, and of course, the flour on the won ton skins helps.) In the thickened remaining stock, melt four tablespoons butter, then add the half-n-half, the parmesan cheese, and the garlic powder. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper. Simmer until the cheese melts, whisking until the sauce is smooth and has thickened. Plate the ravioli, top with a generous amount of sauce, and garnish with more shredded parmesan and a sprinkle of parsley. A-mazing!

This picture doesn't really do the dish justice. It just looks...all...beige. But trust me--the taste is truly wonderful! Cyd said that it should go on my menu (that is, the imaginary menu of the hypothetical cafe' that I don't even own...yet!). Still, it's a winner. Try it.


Randi said...

Oh, you have one of those menus too? So do I, LOL. The stock looks very rich, the feet still look gross.

Just the Right Size said...

You GO girl! I'm so glad you decided to try this; it's like nothing you've ever had before! I don't use mine for everything calling for chicken stock, only special dishes where I want that extra flavor punch.

And you want to know something? I SWEAR this stock is good for your joints! Whenever I'm feeling really sore or achey from working out at the gym or yardwork, I eat a bowl of something with this chicken stock and it's better than taking glucosamine!