Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chicken: Stock or Broth

While the rice is resting and the 3 qts of Chicken & Dumplings, and 4 qts of Chicken Vegetable Soup w/ Noodles finish up on their own, I would like to address my confusion concerning chicken fat. Considering today’s mania about fat of any kind, I would be inclined to remove and discard it. However, my childhood recollections overrule and I generally treat it as liquid gold. (If I die next week of clogged arteries, please don’t follow my example.)

In 1949, my father moved my thoroughly southern mother and us children to Cleveland while he attended school for four years. For the first year, we lived on the ground floor, left/rear, of a large red brick apartment building somewhere on Euclid Avenue. I remember that the front entrance had buzzers and speakers. Each day, coming home from the 2nd grade, I would have to press the buzzer, listen for my mother’s voice and announce myself into a little ring of holes in order to get the door to unlock. The door seemed huge and heavy. Wearing mittens and carrying my book-bag made opening it difficult but it was one of my favorite moments in any day. Perhaps that’s why walking into some restaurants whisks me immediately back to my childhood. The fragrances of out apartment did not ‘waft’. They were not gentle, like something on a spring breeze. They were hot, heavy and hard. Almost taking your breath away…and they were delicious.

Sylvia, a large Italian woman, downstairs/right/front, cooked with sausages and dried meats, garlic and basil and oregano, a great deal of which decorated her long white apron. With flour flying, she made her own ravioli and hung pasta on a clothes rack to dry. She had balls of cheese weighted with a plate and a rock in a large crock filled with liquid. Ester was the pencil thin Jewish woman who lived upstairs/left/rear/. She cooked with onions and caraway, cabbages and fishes and chicken that still had feet and necks and were laid out on a table that was covered with newspapers. Most often, the aroma from one of the kitchen overwhelmed the other but sometimes it was a real, mingling battle.

I loved those smells. I loved those women. I spent hours in their kitchens watching their every move. It was Ester who taught me to make latkes, the old knuckle-shaving way. When I got my first food processor, I tried it as a shortcut to turning the potatoes to a gray pulp but it wasn’t the same and I quickly returned to the time consuming method of hand grating. It was Ester, also, who taught me that chicken fat was something of a gift from heaven. I remember the golden pools floating on her soups. I strive diligently for that look, for that taste.

Today I have cooked big pots of chicken as well as Italian dishes. My kitchen has achieved the fragrance of that long ago battleground which existed just the other side of our huge and heavy apartment entrance door.

1 comment:

sarah said...

those photos are making me hungry and i love the nostalgia of the post!