Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stock improves!

Many people in the responsible-omnivore movement highlight the importance of "eating the whole animal," not just chicken breasts or prime rib. This was an important practice of traditional people, who recognized the nutritional value to be found in all parts of the animal; it also made food go much further and meant that families could be satisfied with less meat because they were using other nutrient-dense animal parts that kept them going much longer than meat alone could ever do. Farm wives of the past would use everything from feathers, feet, and gizzards when slaughtering a valuable chicken (and all chickens were very valuable). Many people who live on farms today still follow these practices. The summer issue of Gastronomica had a fascinating article on a traditional dish of the Piedmont area of Italy that incorporates such unmentionable chicken parts as testicles and wattles -- and yes, people still eat this!

I am slowly incorporating more of these methods into our way of eating, and while I don't plan on eating rooster wattles or testicles any time soon, I finally got brave enough to try making stock with chicken feet. There was a bit of the grossness factor that I had to get over, so I just tried not to look at them as I slipped them into the big pot of water along with a chicken carcass, cut-up onions, celery, and carrots, and 1 tbsp. of vinegar. I simmered everything for at least 6 hours, adding sea salt along the way, then strained out all the solids, and let me tell you, the end result was like no stock I have ever tasted. It was absolutely divine: deep golden-brown, rich, flavorful, and (as a single sip told me instantly) just brimming with minerals. Turns out this stock was also incredibly gelatin-rich -- it gelled beautifully in the fridge, which is THE sign of a truly nutritious, properly-made stock. Many people are tempted to believe this "jelly" is just fat and therefore must be bad for them, but it is actually gelatin which improves digestion and absorption of nutrients, imparts valuable minerals to our bodies, and has many healing properties (thus the old adage that chicken soup is good for a cold). People in many traditional cultures have sayings to the effect that "broth will cure anything" or "a good broth will raise the dead."

An endocrinologist I used to see (hurrah! no more need for that!) told me once in horror about the oxtail soup her mother made for her after her difficult labor and delivery with her first child. She was eating it gleefully for days, but then one day when she was finally up and around again she looked in the fridge for something to eat and discovered a big pot of what looked like pale-brown jelly. She was horrified when her mother told her that this was the oxtail soup she had been eating! The wise Western medical doctor, believing this to be pure saturated fat, gave her silly traditional Venezuelan mother a good scolding and promptly threw away the soup -- along with its amazing store of nutrients and healing gelatin. I had no idea at the time she told me this tale that the jellied soup had actually been gelatin rather than fat, though I suspected that something was amiss in her beliefs about it (as many of us know, saturated fat would be solid after refrigeration, like butter). Of course, her mother couldn't explain why it was so good for her, but definitely knew that she needed to feed it to her recovering daughter! Alas, how sad that we now think we know better than our ancestors what it takes to be healthy and well.

A bag of chicken feet from our buyers' club cost me $1.75. Since I can only order this from them once per month (the other farmer I order from doesn't offer them), I picked up a bag for $5 at the Union Square Greenmarket last Friday (from Flying Pigs Farm) and will be making stock with it sometime this coming weekend. At either price, chicken feet are now an indispensable part of chicken stock in our house. Here is the yield from this stock-making episode (a little less than 3 quarts, a typical amount from our large pot). I've included the carrots in the picture as these are the pieces I saved to feed Oliver:


  1. You are so adventurous! I love your openness to trying new methods of cooking! No feet for me anytime soon, but I do believe you that the broth is delicious :)

  2. agree with heidi! very impressive. also, i have some jeans that need to be hemmed, you multitalented woman.

  3. Yum! Love it!

    I too save the veggies (including the aromatics) from broth making. I either mash them into the broth (if they haven't already fallen apart) or pull them out for eating with meals later. So delicious!