Friday, September 25, 2009

An All-Organic Dinner

I will admit that there have been an awful lot of posts about food around here lately. I can’t help it though—September in France is culturally known as “La Rentree,” as in “The Return”—return to school, to daily life, to everything! Taking a month off, as the French do in August, really sets September up as a happenin’ kind of time. The streets suddenly buzz with kids in new shoes and new backpacks, with frazzled mommies trying to get back into the routine, with a fresh round of college kids here to have the semester of their lives. And of course, the markets that stood mostly empty for all of August (it was a very trying month) are suddenly buzzing again with all kinds of vendors hocking late summer and early fall fruits and veggies. I cannot resist a busy looking market and have consequently been making great use of my traditional shopping basket.

In deciding on my menus, I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from my friends, both in blog land and in real life. The Coq au Vin idea came from Jamie who made her version for an adoring and grateful Steve the week before. In setting out to shop last Sunday, I had in mind the recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup by my friend Katie over at The Thin Chef. Now that it’s Fall, I have a huge craving for hearty soups, and her recipe seemed just the thing to satiate it.

So, I grabbed my basket and I off I went to the Boulevard Raspail Market.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, the market is a regular one, but on Sundays it is exclusively for selling and buying organic goods. This means that it is not only packed with people, it is also VERY expensive. I bought all of my food for the soup here this time, but in the future I think I’ll have to be more choosy, possibly buying my meat at my usual butcher’s shop. He can tell you the provenance of all his products anyway, and as the French aren’t really into the whole “fill your meat full of hormones” kick that the Americans seem to be okay with, my main concern is that I’m buying French products.

The Italian Stand from which I bought fresh pasta for the soup.

Beautiful Bounty

The chicken on the left, in front = MINE

All set up and ready to go.


So, in making “Katie’s Feel Better Chicken and Noodle Soup” (which turned out to be RIDICULOUSLY good), I followed her recipe except I made my own chicken stock and used the cooked chicken in the soup. I think she will approve. And, in the spirit of recipe sharing, I thought I’d tell you how I make my stock. It is a very special act for me, because cooking a whole chicken in a pot always, always makes me think of my mother. Putting the Chicken on to Cook was the single greatest act my mom entrusted me with as a young teenager. Mom worked very hard (and still does). She left for work in the mornings before we left for school. Sometimes she would leave me a note asking me to “put the chicken on” at 5 pm so that part of dinner would be ready for her to work with when she got home in the evening. Usually it turned into Chicken and Rice or Chicken and Dumplings (Lordy- that’s a whole other post for the future), but it was ME who had the task of making the base. I always regarded this as a solemn duty and was so very proud that my mom trusted me enough (I think I was maybe 12 or 13 when I first did it) to ask me to not only handle a whole chicken but to also not burn the house down with open flame on the stove. I am a bit accident prone, after all.

But, enough reminiscing. Here’s the way the Kirby/Donovan/Houston women make stock. It isn’t fancy, and it isn’t the way the cookbooks will tell you, but it’s worked for us for who knows how many years, and I think it will work for you too.

Simple Chicken Stock


  • 1 whole chicken (In the US, the neck and organs will often be in a sack in the chest cavity of the bird. Be sure to remove this before cooking or you’ll be sorry. Don’t ask. Just trust me.)
  • 1 Bay Leaf*
  • Celery Salt
  • Pepper


  • Prepare the chicken by removing it from any packaging, cutting any trusses, removing any inner stuffing (see note above), and rinsing it clean under running water.
  • Place the chicken breast side down (when I was little I used to make the chicken dance on the counter to be sure which side was the breast) in a very large stockpot.
  • Fill the pot with water to cover the bird (he might float, so be sure to press him down to see how much water you really need).
  • Turn on high heat and season your chick with the bay leaf, celery salt, and pepper—use lots of the salt and pepper. Sometimes I throw in a bit of kosher salt too.
  • Once the water begins to boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, cover your pot and leave it alone.
  • Check on your bird in 45 minutes. You know he’s done when the wings pull easily away from the body. If that isn’t happening, leave him cookin’ for another 15 minutes and then check again. Keep cooking until the “wing thing” happens.
  • Once the bird is done, remove him from the pot using whatever utensils you feel necessary. For me, this usually means a wooden spoon stuck in the body cavity, a large spatula and lots of cursing. Let the chicken drain for a second into the pot (hence the cursing—holding that bird over the pot can be a bit tricky).
  • Place the bird on a platter and allow to cool.
  • You now have a large quantity of chicken stock to use for whatever you like and a whole chicken that can be carved or plucked. I usually do the latter and add the bits to rice or soup, as I did with Katie’s recipe. Voila!

* Being married to a chef, I’ve recently discovered the hoity-toity bouqet garni (a mixture of bay leaves, thyme, and some other stuff) and have been playing around with one of those thrown into the pot with pepper and regular salt. We can buy them ready-made here at the grocery store, which is way easier than putting them together ourselves. If you can, try one out too. It adds a different flavor to the stock.

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