I hate waste. Hate, hate, hate it. I trust that’s clear? It has made me crazy since I was a small child at how much STUFF we throw away, unused…not just ‘stuff’, not even just usable ‘stuff’, but stuff that actually can make your life better if you treat it with respect. If I treat it with respect.
Case in point: the bones of a chicken. From any chicken dish: roasted, braised, sautéed, anything where the main event is the chicken meat, not the sauce around it. If the sauce is the main point, then presumably it has been greatly enlivened by the presence of the bones…which means dem bones didn’t go to waste. But…
Take your roast chicken. I personally love roast chicken. In all modesty, I must say I make a great roast chicken—brined with lots of garlic, then roasted to a juicy turn with a crispy skin. When I make a roast chicken, married as I am to a vegetarian, I get quite a few meals for myself out of it. A leg and a thigh for the first dinner, usually with lots of carrots roasted on the side. A cold leg and thigh for lunch the next day. A wing (or two) for a snack. The breast meat stripped off the bones, and either shredded and made into a chicken salad with cilantro and scallions (my favorite chicken salad, worth two meals wrapped in tortillas), or, my current favorite, chicken in a béchamel sauce. With peas.
“What do you use that for?” the very nice grocery clerk asked me yesterday, after she directed me to where the Wondra flour was found. Wondra flour being an especially finely milled kind of flour that immediately thickens a sauce without making it taste floury…and it never lumps. “For sauces,” I said. She looked puzzled. “What kind of sauces?” “Gravy,” I suggested, realizing what we had here was a difference in terminology.
Her brow cleared. “Ohhhhh. Gravy. I see.” Because really, a béchamel sauce is just Protestant gravy, under another name. White sauce. Veloute. It’s all just gravy.
And what gravy!
So what I do is, as I eat that roast chicken, I keep the bones. If I’m going to make chicken a la béchamel, I strip off the breast meat in large chunks and add it to a buttered casserole dish. Refrigerate while I make the broth. When I’ve got the bones all stripped of meat, I add them, what giblets and neck had been with the chicken originally, a scrubbed carrot, a scrubbed piece of celery, some sprigs of parsley, a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves, a slice of onion, some peppercorns, and a bay leaf, putting them all in a big pot, and cover them with water. I bring that to a boil and let it simmer until I can taste CHICKEN BROTH. And yes, there you have it. Chicken broth. Chicken broth that costs you a small fortune to buy, there it is, in the bones of your roast chicken. (Warning—and I will repeat this—torture chickens, of the kind made into supermarket rotisserie birds, born and bred in unspeakably awful and confining circumstances, will not provide bones that will make anything but pallid tasting water. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Try to make chicken broth from a torture chicken’s carcass. Then try with one from an organic bird. Hah. There. You see? Evidence of your own taste buds.)
Once you have that broth, you can make your béchamel, or veloute, or gravy, or sauce, or whatever you want to call it—I’m not fussy about names, what I’m fussy about is taste. Essentially the same as how you make a cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, except a.) you don’t use cheese, and b.) you can use half milk, half chicken broth…or whatever mix appeals to you that day. In other words, for a whole chicken breast: sauté four tablespoons of butter and four tablespoons of flour (I like to use Wondra, but it’s not necessary, just cook a little longer if you use regular flour). Add 2 cups of milk and or/chicken broth in whatever proportions you feel like that day. Half and half is nice. Simmer until it tastes good, about fifteen minutes for Wondra, and forty for regular flour. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a slug of sherry if you have it, and a glug of cream.
Now…mix with the chicken breast pieces in that buttered casserole. Add a handful of frozen peas, if you like. You can add some diced cooked carrot, though I usually don’t. Top with something crunchy. I use a mix of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese, but you can use toasted sliced almonds, toasted pecan pieces—you get the idea.
Bake at 350 degrees until bubbling and browned along the edges.
There you have it. The most wonderful chicken breast dish in the world (and I am usually not a fan of chicken breast). It’s great reheated the next day, and even the day after that.
Here’s another secret: it’s actually chicken pot pie without the pie.
So much of life is making these connections, isn’t it? And then murmuring, “Eureka!” as you dig in to yet another reason that life is very worth living.
\(At the risk of being boring, let me repeat: save all the bones from your various meat meals in a bag in the freezer, and when you have enough, make a broth. Freeze that and use, oh, for all sorts of yummy things. But don’t bother using non-organic bones. Not for health reasons, though doubtless there’s something in that. Simply for taste. An animal that was raised in a factory will not taste the same as an animal that was raised on a farm. Guaranteed.)