Friday, December 11, 2009

Stew Hens

What exactly is a stew hen? Well, it is a laying hen that is past her prime. So, you turn that hen into a rich flavorful broth that can be used in many different recipes! In my last posting I have my go-to recipe for making broth with either a stew hen or a leftover roasting carcass. If you want a thinner liquid always use a whole hen to create a higher meat to bone ratio. If you want a thicker stock rich in collagen, always use a leftover carcass that has a lower meat to bone ratio. Either are perfect for soups and stews but if you want to make a sauce with this liquid always use a collagen-rich chicken stock instead of a broth! The stock helps to bind the fat from pan drippings (au jus) so you have a completely coagulated sauce. Broth would not bind the fat and just give you a "broken" sauce. It is kind of like making a salad dressing. You add enough fat (oil) until everything binds or emulsifies. Stock can also be used as an alternative to cream or butter when deglazing your roasting pans. And I might add here, that you should always roast your meats in a "flame-proof" roasting pan, that you can place over your stove burners to deglaze all those flavorful fatty drippings! Never waste your pan drippings. They will create a dimension to any sauce that will elevate your dish and make you everyone's favorite chef. Now where do you get your hands on a stew hen? Ask around at the farmers market. We had processed a few with our Thanksgiving turkeys, but they went to our CSA Members. We may do some more, but it depends on the hens. And remember to always use your turkey carcasses for stock too!

Now if you make some homemade broth or stock, here is an excellent soup that my family loves!

Turkey/Chicken Tortilla Soup
Adapted from the Rebar Cookbook

8 cups of homemade broth
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1/2 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
dried oregano
2 hot peppers, fined diced (I used poblanos, but if you want more heat use jalapenos)
3 cups of frozen corn kernels (try to find fire-roasted corn- it gives the soup a slightly smoky-sweet flavor)
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large orange bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cups of shredded meat (I used up the rest of our turkey leftovers)
store bought corn tortilla chips
2 avocados, diced
shredded Mexican cheese

Cook the onion in a little olive oil until it is translucent and starting to caramelize. Add the garlic and season to taste with salt, pepper, paprika (sweet or smoky) and the oregano. Cook until garlic is fragrant and lightly golden. Add the hot peppers, be careful not to "smell" the pot at this point. Hot peppers will burn your nasal passage once they get a little hot in a pan! Cook the peppers until soft. Add the sweet bell peppers and corn to the pot and give a good stir to make sure all the seasonings are well mixed. Add a little more oil to coat and adjust seasonings to taste. Add the shredded meat and pour the broth over everything. Stir to incorporate all of the flavors. Cover loosely, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until all the vegetables are cooked and the soup has had a chance to let all the flavors meld together, at least 20 minutes. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and top with shredded cheese, diced avocados and crushed tortilla chips. Enjoy the soup as everything slowly melts into it creating many different flavor sensations!

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