Posts Tagged ‘pimenton de la vera’

Kitchen Staples: Ethical Chicken

Recently a friend came to visit me and I proudly led her to the back of the yard to see my six beautiful hens in their secure coop. Instead of admiring them, she was dismayed because “They’re so crowded.” I must admit that I was floored. I have six hens in a 4 foot by 7 foot coop, with lots of headroom and high perches, and I think my chickens have it good.   Upon questioning, it was clear that she buys her chickens and eggs from the grocery store and has no idea what conditions in a commercial chicken operation are like. So here are some images to ponder: In the best possible commercial set-up, laying hens would have a square foot per bird. That means 28 chickens in my coop instead of six. More likely, there would be 4 hens for every 3 square feet, or 36 birds in my coop. Up to 42 hens would be in it in some operations, and they would be in cages no more than a foot high, often less, so that the hens couldn’t even straighten out their necks, but stacking the cages would enable 5 layers of birds to be kept in my 28 square feet, or up to 210 birds total, since my coop is 5 feet high.  Broiler chickens are even more crowded, if you can imagine such a thing, and the stench is hellish. I refuse to discuss the slaughter practices, because I don’t care to remind myself. When I had my sheep farm , I lived near a broiler operation, and I didn’t eat chicken again for years. If you comfort yourself by buying “free range” chicken, think again; a 20′ X 20′ yard may be the “range” for a barn holding 20,000 to 30,000 chickens.  If you want to be realistic about commercial farming practices, I urge you to read Michael Pollan’s best book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Be aware that, by the end, you will feel driven to change your habits if you haven’t already.

All too often, people refuse to think about where their meat comes from and how it’s killed for a simple reason; they would have to drastically change their eating habits if they let themselves acknowledge what goes on in standard CAFO operations. I don’t care to perpetuate such cruelties, and so I am starting my own laying flock and I get my meat chicken from Pollo Real at the Santa Fe farmers’ market. They are a pasture operation, which means that the chickens are kept on pasture in “yurts” which are moved frequently. They are fed grain and they eat plants, insects, and all the things that chicken should eat. They have plenty of room. They re slaughtered on the farm, quickly and humanely. They cost a lot more than supermarket chicken, and they should. They are better for you and yours, better for the chickens, and better for the planet. Paying more makes us realize that we have to pay to support humane farming practices, and that meat should be a pleasant addition to a meal rather than the center of it.

Better ethics and a better dinner; this is well worth an occasional trip to Santa Fe with a cooler, or look for Pollo Real chicken at La Montanita Co-op. Once you have some, there are a million ways to cook it, but here’s a simple favorite: just rub it with a paste made from a few clove of fresh garlic, a teaspoon of salt for every pound of chicken, a tablespoon of Spanish Pimenton de la Vera or smoked paprika, the juice of half a lemon, and enough olive oil to make  a paste. Grill it over a low fire until done to your taste, brushing with any leftover paste. Serve with lots of vegetables and whole grains. Sleep like a baby.

And, just for fun, here’s my own chicken flock.

Kitchen Staples: Broth


Few things will improve your cooking as much as getting rid of all commercial broth products and making your own. On my website I have extensive notes about broth-making, and you can read them here. In this post, I’ll just add a few notes about broth and its uses, and refer you to that site for the details.

Use very good materials to begin with. You can get lovely flavorful pastured chicken necks and backs from Pollo Real at the Santa Fe farmer’s market, and there is no better basis for chicken broth. Give the roasting step the time it needs, and the pay-off in flavor will be considerable. Don’t salt your broth, because you may want to reduce it later which will concentrate it manyfold. I pressure-can mine for later use, but if you have room in your freezer, that’s an easier alternative.

Once you have good broth on hand, you can use it to reduce waste and pick up some goodness from all kinds of things that you might otherwise discard. If I buy a pound of oyster mushrooms or shitake mushrooms to roast for a winter dinner, I put the stems and trimmings in a quart of broth to simmer for an hour, building the foundation for a great mushroom sauce or mushroom soup on another day. Chicken bones left over after dinner? Pop them in a quart or two of broth to simmer and enrich the flavor. Onion skins and ends on your cutting board? A slow simmer in broth will improve its flavor and give it a lovely gold color, and the rawness of the onions is lost en route.Many people save their bones and vegetable trimmings in plastic bags in the freezer, but I think the flavor is better if you simmer them while they’re fresh. The broth can be frozen more successfully than the ingredients.

Fish and seafood broths need to be cooked separately from other meats, naturally, and don’t include any salmon trimmings. I love salmon, but it does ruin fish fume’. But if you buy a few mild fish heads to start fish broth, then every time you have shrimp shells, crab shells, or any other flavorful but inedible seafood bits available, you can extract its flavor in broth and save the broth for a great paella or gumbo when you’re in the mood.

Once some good enriched broth is hanging out in your kitchen, what do you do with it? There is almost no pan-grilled or roasted meat that can’t be improved by a simple reduction sauce. Remove the meat from the pan, pour a cup of good broth into the pan over high heat, boil hard and scrape all the lovely browned bits into the broth, and when it’s reduced to a few tablespoons and has a syrupy consistency, swirl in a tablespoon of butter and serve immediately. A glug of good red or white wine, depending on the meat and seasoning, can be added to the pan for the initial deglazing, then add the stock and boil down. If you want to get fancier, most of the sauces of classic French Cuisine are at your command when you have really good broth to start with, and you can check out Glorious French Food or another cookbook to consider your options. Grains like rice and bulgur are delicious when ccoked in broth. If you’re a fan of Mexican cooking, you’ll want to try Zarela Martinez’s trick of toasting dried chiles of various kinds and then soaking them in broth rather than water before grinding them into a mole’ paste or other flavoring paste. Great stews like coq au vin are within your reach, although they will use up a lot of broth, which is why you make a lot in the first place. A paprikash like the one above requires little more than a meaty main ingredient, top-notch paprika, and really good broth (my own far-from-conventional recipe is below.)When I’m feeling dispirited and glum I revert to my Louisiana roots and make gumbo, and it invariably cheers me up, and usually cheers some other people too.

I advise avoiding strong-flavored vegetables of the cabbage family, such as broccoli and kale, for general-purpose broth. If you use leafy greens, they will color the broth, so don’t use them unless you’re willing to have green broth. Onions, carrots, celery, shallots, and leeks are aromatic staples that improve any broth. If you want to make all-vegetable broth, my favorite way is to roast the vegetables to bring out their flavor via the lovely Maillard reactions, and add a few mushrooms for the base note; dried shitakes are especially good for this, and as long as you don’t use too many, the flavor will not be identifiably Asian. .

If we can grasp some positive principle from the wretched ecomony, it should be to get the best value we can from everything we use. Nothing does that better or more gracefully than broth.
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