How can I make it better? That’s always on my mind whenever I cook.
One quarter of a chicken, a leg and thigh with back attached, purchased for almost nothing a pound, will be plenty for us for a weeknight meal of chicken and biscuits.
“Just buy a can of cream of mushroom soup,” said husband Eric, who thinks he’s hilarious. No. I’m making it better.
So I simmered the chicken piece in one 32-ounce carton of chicken stock, with a quarter onion, a few parsley stems, a bay leaf and some dried thyme from the garden.
Mom used to say you can add flavor when you cook chicken that way. That’s just the beginning.
I don’t mind spending time in the kitchen and always consider cooking and simmering to be downtime. I can chop vegetables, wash lettuce, sit down at my laptop.
Meantime, the fragrance fills the house.
Later, I remove the chicken and let it cool. Then I shred the meat and put it aside to be added just before serving.
Like with soup, the architecture of chicken and biscuits is not set in stone. I check the fridge — there’s some extra broccoli from the last stir-fry, bags of onions and carrots, and celery. There’s peas in the freezer. The only thing I purchased for this meal was a red pepper.
A very good chef once showed me how to “Layer the flavors,” as you cook. Whenever I sauté vegetables, I add kosher salt and fresh pepper, just a little. Tomatoes for salad always sit in the dressing for a while before the meal. I try to add flavor all along the way. The ordinary box of stock will be something much more interesting when I’m done with it.
I cut up two carrots, a quarter onion, a celery stalk and a garlic clove, and set them cooking in butter in another pan until they are cooked through. Then I add red pepper and broccoli and cook a bit more, so the broccoli is still bright and the vegetables maintain their integrity. The frozen peas go in to just to thaw, then I tip the vegetables onto a plate and use this smaller pan to make a roux.
A great way to add flavor is to reduce, so I add a can of chicken broth and start cooking down. When the liquid is reduced by about half, I’ll strain it. I let the roux cook a little, until it smells like butter cookies, then whisk in the broth. More salt and cracked black pepper go in now; I can add Gravy Master for a little color (and not incidentally, flavor). I taste as I go. More reducing, until I have the volume and consistency I want.
When it’s just right, I’ll leave it until just before we sit down, then add the meat and the vegetables and heat them through before serving.
We’ve been on vacation for the last week and it feels good to be back in the kitchen again, the windows steamed up from cooking, the air fragrant. The table is set and the house is cozy, there is an air of pleasant anticipation for dinner. We love to travel and to eat out, but sometimes there’s no place better than home, especially when dinner tastes so good.