Monday, January 31, 2011

Butchering a chicken: a plea for help

I told a couple of people I was going to write up and post the entry on Mauritius today, but I think my adventures of this afternoon will make for much better reading and viewing. This week I'll be cooking Vietnamese food with Kim, a friend from college. In preparation, he sent me a recipe that involved making chicken broth using a whole chicken, so I figured I would knock out that step this afternoon. Problem: I've never butchered a chicken. Why would I, when I can buy oh-so-convenient cut up chicken pieces at the grocery store? But this recipe specifically stated that I was supposed to use the back and giblets (except the liver), which don't usually come in the nice convenient packages. Although the chicken is currently cut up and simmering in a pot on the stove, the process was not smooth. Pictures are after the jump (only of the chicken, not of my freak-out as no one was here to take those, but they're still funny), but it occurred to me that butchering a chicken is something every 25 year old aspiring home chef should know how to do, especially when they feel as strongly about economizing and making things from scratch as I do.

I want someone to come over and teach me to butcher a chicken. I'll provide the chicken, and make dinner with it after. You bring yourself, knife skills (preferable), poultry shears (if you don't have the aforementioned knife skills), and your favorite bottle of relatively inexpensive wine. Leave a comment here, on Facebook, or at 45sqftkitchen at gmail dot com if you want to help a girl out!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Sorry for the delay in posting. I started a new job and got bronchitis at the same time, which hasn't been great for my motivation. But I have a food-packed week planned, so expect more frequent posts from here on out!

Belarusian cuisine is influenced primarily by climate; the growing season is relatively short and wheat does not grow well. Root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, and carrots are relatively common, and meat is relatively scarce (probably due in part to the poverty of the country). Culinary influences include Russia and Jewish immigrants from Germany. Salt and onions are the primary seasoning agents; I was afraid the meal would be bland. I settled on babka, a meat and potato bake, and pskovsky, a warm vegetable salad. They weren't that difficult to make and were ready around the same time. All together, it took about an hour and a half to make, although I probably could have done it faster with better time management skills (and better potato-grating skills!). I did take some liberties. The babka recipe only called for "meat," so when I found veal at Shoppers I decided to go for the tenderness (sorry, Molly), and doubled the amount. I'm pretty sure it's the only thing that saved the dish. I also cut the number of potatoes in half in both recipes, partially because I got really tired of grating potatoes. Finally, instead of switching over to a casserole dish to bake the babka, I just used my cast iron skillet, in which I'd fried the meat and onions. I think it was a good decision.

When everything was ready, I really thought I was going to have to order pizza or something. It all looked incredibly bland (my first bite supported this) despite a ridiculous amount of salt. The potatoes on top of the meat were gray and dismal-looking, and barely cooked. I seriously wished I'd put cheese on it. But the meat and onion mixture was tasty and flavorful and the potatoes were edible with yet more salt (I put the leftovers back in the oven for ~15 minutes at 425 with a nice topping of shredded sharp cheddar cheese because I hate throwing out food. I expect them to be pretty good). I forgot the sour cream, but am not sure it would have helped. The vegetables were pretty bland. Next time I'd probably salt the water they simmered in, but the topping was good. I might make it again and just eat it on peas or pasta or something. I'd also add some garlic.

Has anyone ever been to Belarus? Is this a good representation of the cuisine? I was wishing I'd made the mushroom croquettes with bacon I'd found a recipe for, but didn't really have time or energy for more than two dishes. On a related note, I'm going to have to do Moldova and Ukraine sometime; does anyone have suggestions? Chicken Kiev is actually Russian, I think.