Saturday, May 14, 2011

How to Render Chicken Fat

If you hate wasting food as much as I do, you may already be familiar with rendering fat from chickens. If you haven't, that's fine! I had never done it before either, but it really is very simple and pretty cool!
For my rendered fat I used the trimmed fat and the skins from the breasts and necks of two chickens that I fabricated (How to fabricate a chicken). Any of the chicken skin or trimmed fat should work fine.

§  Chicken skin and trimmed fat from 1 chicken (3-4 lbs)
§  Water

1.       Cut the skin and fat into 1 inch pieces and place in a small-medium saucepan.
2.      Add enough water to just cover the skin.
3.      Bring the skin and water to a simmer and let the water evaporate as the fat is extracted from the skin.
4.      After 30 min, strain the liquid into a glass container and see if it separates. If there is still fat on top and water on the bottom, return the liquid to the saucepan and simmer for 10 more minutes then check again. Repeat this step as needed until all the water has evaporated.
5.      Allow the fat to cool before storing.

Chicken skin and fat, normally discarded

Cut into pieces.

Added enough water to just cover. This will
steam the skin and extract the fat.

As the skin steams/simmers you will see the
fat rise to the surface (fat is lighter than water,
thus it will float above the water and not mix)

Straining the skin from the liquids.

If you look closely, you can see the yellow fat
layer above the white-ish water layer, meaning
more water still needs to evaporate.

You can see here, once all the water is gone,
there will be about 1/3-1/2 cup of fat.

Rendered fat ready to cool and be used!

How to Make Chicken Stock

Making stock is one of the first things you learn in culinary school, and for good reason. Stock not only provides a great way for us to utilize all the meat bones we accumulate, but it also serves as a base for all kinds of soups, sauces, aspics, and more. Making your own stock at home may seem like a daunting task at first, something only done in culinary schools and restaurants, but once you know the basics, you'll see there's really not much to it!

The type of stock you make largely depends on what kind of bones you use (bones are used to flavor "stocks", not meat. If meat is used it is "broth) for example: chicken bones for chicken stock, beef or veal bones for a brown stock, fish bones for fish stock. The except to this rule would be that vegetable stock uses only vegetables and aromatic herbs for its flavor.

In this post I'll be making a basic chicken stock using the bones from 2 whole chickens that I fabricated. Click here for how to fabricate a chicken. When you cut the meat off of bones, the bones can be frozen and saved until you are ready to prepare your stock. You will also notice that stock has a rather long cooking time for flavor purposes. For this reason, stock is usually made in large batches and then put into small portions for later use. At school we make about 36 gallons in our huge steam-jacketed kettle then pour it into gallon-sized bags and freeze it so that we always have some on hand. Figure out what is most convenient for you!

A few notes on making stock:
Besides bones, there are two other main flavoring agents, the mirepoix (meer-PWAH) and the sachet (sa-SHAY). A basic mirepoix, as used below, is a combination of onions, carrots, and celery in a ratio of 2:1:1. For different recipes a mirepoix may also include parsnips, leeks, or other vegetables. You don't need to get to fussy with the exact measurements of the mirepoix, just pretty close. I usually add more mirepoix if I'm short on bones. The size that you cut the vegetables for the mirepoix depends on how long you intend to cook the stock. For the moderately-sized recipe below, you just want the veggies in medium chunks. If you are pinched for time and want them to cook faster, cut them smaller. If you are making a very large batch of stock that will cook for 6 or 8 hours, you want heftier chunks.
As for the sachet, you basically just need a coffee filter or a piece of layered cheesecloth that you are going to fill with aromatics, tie up, and put in your stock. The basic spices are given below, and again, you don't have to worry about being exact with the amounts, it won't make a huge difference if you add 5 peppercorns instead of 3 or 2 bay leaves instead of 1.
The one thing you do NOT want to add to your stock is salt! Stock is meant to be used as a sort of blank canvas in cooking, thus you would add it to your recipe and THEN season it to your liking. The reason concentrated stocks and bouillon cubes have so much salt is because they are so concentrated and because they need to be preserved.
Finally, if you want a lighter stock you can skip the roasting instructions given below and just put everying in the pot to simmer. Roasting will give a bit richer of a flavor and a nicer color if that is what your are looking for. You may also have to simmer the stock longer to get enough flavor if you choose not to roast the ingredients.

§  1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs.), fabricated (How to fabricate a chicken)
§  4 lbs chicken bones
§  3 qts water
§  ½ lb mirepoix:
§  4 oz chopped onion
§  2 oz chopped carrot
§  2 oz chopped celery
§  1 sachet* with:
§  1 dried bay leaf
§  A pinch of dried thyme leaves
§  A few black peppercorns
§  A few parsley stems or a pinch of dried parsley
§  1 dried clove

1.       Cut all the bones into 3-4 in pieces.
2.      Place the bones in a roasting pan in a single layer and roast at 400 F for 30-45 min until well-browned.
3.      Place the roasted bones in a large stock pot and cover with the water. Deglaze the roasting pan by pouring a bit of hot water into the pan and lightly scraping the bottom clean. Pour the water and the browned bits into the stockpot with the bones.
4.      Dry off the roasting pan and place the mirepoix in it. Turn the over up to 425 F and roast the mirepoix for 15-30 min (depending on the size of the vegetables), until well-browned, but do not let them get mushy. Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer.
5.      Add the roasted mirepoix and the sachet to the stockpot and continue simmering the stock for at least 3 hrs, skimming occasionally, until fragrant and it no longer tastes watery.
6.  Strain the stock in a strainer or china cap and let the liquid cool. Skim off any fat from the top and then package the stock and store it in the refrigerator or freeze it if you do not intend to use it quickly.
*Putting the aromatics in a sachet is not really necessary since you will be straining out the stock later anyways, but this is the way stock is classically made and it DOES make it really easy to make sure you get all the little pieces if you aren't using whole leaves

For this recipe that is only cooked for 3-4
hours (not very long in the stock-making world)
you don't want the vegetables too big, but a
little larger than your normal dice or slice
will be fine. Just remember: the more stock
you're making or the longer the cooking time,
the bigger the pieces.

You're basic mirepoix (there should be twice as
much onion as celery and carrots, but the onion
is covered up here so you can't tell)

The sachet, ready to be tied up.

Roasted bones.

Into the stock pot they go! Don't forget to add
the brown, tasty goodness on the bottom
of the roasting pan! That stuff is full of flavor
and is called the "fond" in culinary school speak.

Time to roast the veggies.

Bring the bones and water to a simmer.

Add the roasted veggies and their fond. (You
probably want them a bit browner than above,
but I didn't have to time to get them all the way
done, just FYI)

Now sit back and let it simmer away!

That is some gooood looking
chicken stock!

The kitchen and the stock should smell like
chicken noodle soup when you are done and
the stock should taste kindof like unseasoned
chicken noodle soup.

Daring Cooks Challenge #4: Let the Good Times Roll!

I think I may have taken the title of this challenge a little too far this past week as it's been tech week with the musical and the good times have been rolling, but the DC challenge got neglected until the very VERY last minute once again. I'm gonna have to work on that!
However, in my defense, I did devote a special shopping trip on Thursday to buying all the things I need and then my whole Friday to making all the food without cutting any corners...or at least not too many.

So the challenge we were presented with this month comes to us from Louisiana: Gumbo! I've only had gumbo a few times in my life and I'd never even really thought of making it before, but it didn't seem like one of those dishes that whole require too much work or skill so I wasn't worried. What I discovered while making the gumbo yesterday, though, was that it was actually like any other meal in that you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. You can buy a can of gumbo and a box of microwaveable rice and you can have gumbo. You can also buy chicken meat, premade chicken stock, a packet of gumbo spices, and a box of instant rice and you can have gumbo. OR you can do it the DC way and buy whole chickens, make your own stock, render your own fat, make your own creole spice blend and make Louisiana White Rice. It all depends on how much time you want to put into it, how much fun you want to have, and how satisfied you want to be when you take that first bite.
Really to make the gumbo itself was not hard at all or even that time-consuming. You can make your own stock and fat ahead of time and even chop all of your ingredients and then just throw them together when you have time and then let the gumbo cook for a few hours. 

However, after making gumbo for the first time, I think I've decided that the best way to make it, is with lots of friends and family who can help in the preparation and who can share in the eating! Not only would this make the work really quick and easy, but you also don't have to eat the same meal for two weeks because this recipe makes a LOT. Honestly, though, even with never having been to Louisiana myself, I just get this feeling that gumbo is one of those meals that is meant to be shared with all and enjoyed by many. Any one else get imaged from The Princess and the Frog, where all the neighbors come together and eat on the back porch? :)

Now to try and simplify this post somewhat and reduce the amount of photos you have to scroll through on one page, I've decided to break up some of the steps into separate posts. The chicken fabrication, making the stock, and rendering the fat will all be separate posts so that you can choose to do the extra work or you can buy chicken parts, stock, and chicken fat at the store. It's up to you, but that way you can also use the separate posts for other occasions.

Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo
 Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh

§  1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs.), fabricated (How to fabricate a chicken)
§  2-3 tablespoons Basic Creole Spice Mix (recipe follows)
§  1 cup rendered chicken fat, duck fat, lard, butter, or a combination (I used ½ chicken fat, ½ butter) (How to render chicken fat)
§  1 cup all-purpose flour
§  2 large onions, diced
§  2 pounds spicy smoked sausage links, sliced ½ inch thick
§  2 stalks celery, diced
§  2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
§  1 tomato, seeded and chopped
§  3 large cloves garlic, minced
§  Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
§  3 quarts chicken stock (How to make chicken stock)
§  2 bay leaves
§  6 oz andouille sausage, chopped (couldn’t find any, but I’m sure it would be good!)
§  2 cups sliced fresh okra, in ½ -inch thick slices (or frozen, if fresh is not available)
§  1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
§  Salt, to taste
§  Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
§  Filé powder, to taste (couldn’t find any)
§  Tabasco, to taste
§  Rice to serve

1. Season the chicken pieces with about 2-3 tablespoons of the Creole Spices while you prepare the vegetables.
2.  Make sure all of your vegetables and sausages are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning.
3.  In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the fat over med-high heat. Whisk the flour – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes.
4.  Add the onions. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the onions into the roux. Reduce the heat to med-low. Continue stirring until the roux becomes dark brown, about 10 minutes.
5.  Add the chicken to the pot; raise the heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until slightly browned, about 10 minutes.
6.  Add the sliced smoked sausage and stir for about a minute.
7.  Add the celery, bell peppers, tomato, and garlic, and continue stirring for about 3 minutes.
8.  Add the thyme, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.
9.  Reduce the heat to med-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often (check and make sure nothing is sticking on the bottom!)
10. Add the chopped andouille, okra, and Worcestershire. Simmer for another 45 minutes or longer, continuing to skim the fat from the surface of the gumbo. (At this point I removed the chicken pieces and removed the bones which were barely holding on, but the extra work is up to you.)
11. Remove the bay leaves, Season with salt and pepper, several dashes of filé powder, and Tabasco, to taste.
12. Serve in bowls over rice.

Basic Creole Spice Mix
 Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh


§  2 tablespoons celery salt
§  1 tablespoon sweet paprika
§  1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
§  1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
§  1 tablespoon garlic powder
§  1 tablespoon onion powder
§  2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
§  ½ teaspoon ground allspice

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a spice grinder (or wiped-out coffee grinder) or mortar and pestle and store in an air-tight container. Makes about ½ cup.

I make 1/3 of the recipe of the spice mix and
it was just about the perfect amount for
seasoning the chicken. I also replaced the
celery salt with celery seed + a little kosher

I went heavier on the spices and rubbed them
about 30 min before they would be cooked
to give them an extra flavor boost

I wasn't sure whether or not to leave the skin
on the legs and wings of the chicken. At school
we are supposed to only skin the breasts, which
is what I decided to do, but next time I will skin
everything and render it for the fat because all
it did in the gumbo was release fat and then fall
off and I ended up having to pull it out later.

Mise en place (everything in its place) is very
important in making gumbo as you really do
NOT have free hands at all once the roux gets
started. If you're afraid of this getting too time-
consuming, you can easily chop them the day
before or when you have time and then just
have them ready in the fridge. I do this with
several recipes and it makes the final cooking
a breeze!

From the skin of 4 breasts and 2 necks and any
other trimmed fat I got about 1/2 cup rendered
chicken fat. At school we mostly use butter for
our rouxs so I just used 1/2 cup (1 stick)
unsalted butter to make up the other half of
the fat for the roux and I think it worked
just fine.

I clarified my butter so that the milk solids
wouldn't burn as I made the roux, but I don't
think its really necessary. If you DO want
to clarify your butter though, just melt it in
your pot and skim off the milk solids (the white
parts you see above) and you'll be left with
just the fat.

You really want to keep the roux moving with
a good whisk going constantly because flour can
burn very quickly (taking pictures was a bit
of a challenge!)

At the first stages of cooking, when the fat and
 the flour have just come together, it is called a
 white roux. Once the roux has reached a tan
 sort of color, it's called a blonde roux.

For gumbo, you want a brown roux about the
color of chocolate (darker than the picture
 above!) My blonde roux gave off sort of a
popcorn-like smell which I thought was
At this color or brown my roux started smelling
strangely like coffee to me...not sure what the
deal was about that, but I didn't taste anything
in the end product. Any thoughts from the

You really want to have a big a pot as possible,
especially when you add the chicken! I used
our biggest pot and I still had a hard time
turning the chicken enough to let it brown and
not burn the roux...I might do this differently
next time because it didn't seem very ideal

The recipe said to let the meat and veggies
cook for a few minutes before adding the stock,
but I added a little bit right away to deglaze the
pot so that the roux wouldn't burn

Don't be worried if the pot looks REEEALLY
full when you add the stock. As long as you
just let it simmer and not boil over, it will
slowly reduce of the next few hours and become
thicker and not so filled to the brim.

I hadn't had okra before so I was excited to
try it in my gumbo. However, I was sad I could
only get frozen okra so I think it cooked faster
than fresh would have and it all but disappeared
in the gumbo :/ I guess if you don't really like
okra, though, this would be the way to go.

The gumbo should be go to go after the 1.5 hrs
of simmering given in the recipe, but I let mine
simmer an extra 30 min and then turned it off
and let it sit in its own heat for another hour
while I prepared the rest of dinner and I think
it thicken up just a little bit more and developed
a richer flavor. I found that the sausage and the
spices on the chicken lended enough salt to
the gumbo, but I did add some more black
pepper to bring out the flavors just a little
bit more. I didn't add any Tabasco so that it
wouldn't be too spicy for my sisters and mom,
but I definitely put some on my individual

I served my finished gumbo with brown rice
(because I prefer it over white), roasted red
potato salad, tossed greens, and fresh fruit
salad. Another successful DC challenge!

Chicken Fabrication: how to butcher a whole chicken

Buying whole pieces of meat and cutting them up at home is a great skill to have and it can save you a lot of money! Once you know how to make the right cuts and how to use all of the parts, it's really not as daunting a task as you may think. I know several people who buy a few chickens a week and then devote a certain day to fabricating them and making stock and then they are good to go for at least another week. I don't buy that much simply because we don't eat a lot of chicken at my house, but being part of the cooking competition team at school, fabricating chickens is something I have to practice so I'm trying to make the switch from buying chicken parts to buying whole chickens and making my own parts. I think this also helps kids and adults connect with their food more as they see a piece of meat that actually resembles the living animal rather than just biting into a leg and not really thinking "this is a LEG". Also, I think whole chickens are usually a lot fresher than chicken parts and of course making your own stock much healthier as it doesn't have all the salt and preservatives in it and it's naturally gluten-free!
So, even if my pictures aren't perfect and it seems really confusing, I highly encourage everyone to at least try it once! It's okay if it takes you a long time! I need to cut my 15 minutes down to 3 minutes for competition so I can speak from experience when I say it really does get easier every time you do it. Maybe I'll even post a video of me fabricating when I get my time down just to show that it can be done...

First things first, you want to make sure
your boning knife (on left) and your
chef's knife (on right) are both nice and
sharp so that you can cut through the
flesh and bones with ease. If you do not
have a boning knife, you can just use a
chef's knife, but a boning knife is best.

Secondly, as part of mise en place, get out a
pan for the bones, a pan for the chicken pieces,
and a pan for the skin. If you intend to roast
the bones for stock, use a roasting pan.

Open the chickens from their bags in the sink
to drain so you don't get the blood everywhere.
(Make sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize
the sink afterwards as well as the counter tops!)

Assuming that your chicken is already gutted
of its internal organs, the first cut will be to
remove the wishbone, found just below where
the neck would be. Use your fingers to feels the
V shape of the bone and then make slits with
your boning knife around the shape of the bone.

Use your fingers to feel in the slits and grip
around the bone to pull/wiggle it out.

If the wishbone breaks while you try to remove
it, it's okay, just get all the pieces out as best
as you can and put them in the bone pan.

Next will be to remove the wings. At school we
cut our chickens to make "airline breasts", where
the arm bone is left in. If you don't want the bone
in, you can cut it out as you cut the breast off
of the the ribs. To remove the wings, first cut
on the fat line around the shoulder, as seen above.

 Here you are cutting through just the skin
and the meat, not the bone, all the way around.

Next you want to remove the wing in one
movement by bending the elbow backwards
and breaking the joint and then twisting to
remove the wing and the forearm bone, but
not the upper-arm bone. Do this with both

Here I have the removed wing in my hand and
the chicken with the arm bone still attached
for the airline breast. Place the wings in the
chicken piece pan.

Next, to remove the legs, you want to follow
the fat line again, between the hip and the leg.
You want to carefully just through the skin,
not the meat, so that the flesh is revealed.

Cut the skin far enough up and down so that
you can easily see the legs.

Flip the chicken over and grasp both legs.

Pull the legs backwards and bring
them together until they break.

Now, to remove the legs, use your fingers to
find the sockets of the hip and push into the
crevices to remove the little pockets of meat
there called the "oysters". This step is not
essential, but it's required at school and it is
how good to know how to get all the meat off.

Keep in mind, there are two sockets in the hip,
thus there are two oysters to remove. You
will know whether or not you have gotten the
oysters if you find little pockets of meat still
connected to the hip when you remove the

Once the oysters are removed, carefully cut
around the hip and then cut in between the leg
bone and hip joint to remove the thigh.

One thigh removed. Repeat with the other side.

Both legs removed.

To separate the lower portion of
the leg from the thigh, follow the
fat line (shown by my finger) on
the inside of the leg.

Use your finger to feel where the
joint is in the leg near that fat line
and then use your knife to make one
swift cut in between that joint.

If you feel bone, you are in the wrong
 place and just try moving over until
 you find the opening. You'll know it's
 right because it should cut very
smoothly and easily.

You now have your leg and thigh.
Repeat on the other side and place
all of the legs and thighs in the chicken
piece pan.

The next step is not as neat and
smooth as following fat lines. To
cut out the spine you need to make
a guideline slit on each side of the
spine and then use your chef's knife
to cut through the ribs all the way

FYI: cutting through the spine  might take a
bit of work, but just keep pressing hard with
your chef's knife until you get through. As long
as you aren't cutting through to any of the meat,
you are fine.

Remove the spine, cut it into 3-4 in
pieces and place them in the bone
Once the spine has been removed, you will
see someting that looks like a spearhead
between the two breasts. This is the keel bone.
Make a slit down either side of the keel bone,
just cutting through the top of the flesh.
Use your fingers and go into the slits to separate
the keel bone from the flesh, then remove the
It's ok if the keel bone breaks as
you are removing it, just make sure
to get all the pieces out and place
them in the bone pan.

To separate the breasts, just cut
smoothly between them.

Both breasts, ready to debone.

Next, to remove the breasts, carefully use your
boning knife to cut off the ribs without taking
too much of the meat with them.

If you want your breast to be
airlined, be careful not to cut off
the arm bone as you are removing
the ribs. If you do not want the arm
bone in, simply cut it off with the ribs.

Ribs removed from the breast, airline bone left in.

For skinless breasts, simply slip your hand under
the skin and carefully pull it off of the flesh.
If the skin holds on tight, do not rip the skin, use
your knife to cut the skin off where it is connected.
Place the skin in the skin pan to be rendered for fat.

Once the skin is removed, trim off any visible
fat and add to the skin pan. Repeat with the
other breast. (sorry about the creepy-looking
hand..double-jointedness strikes again)

From here you are done fabricating and you can
proceed to use the chicken meat as you wish and
you can render the fat and use the bones to make
stock if desired.