Carcass. Such an evocative word. Perhaps not one that is usually used when christening a recipe, but it is appropriate sometimes to acknowledge that in order for us to enjoy an omnivorous diet, lives must be lost.
Every now and then I buy one of those roasted chickens from the supermarket. It makes for an easy dinner; cook up some rice, steam some broccoli, throw a few apple slices on the plate, and you have a healthy dinner the kids will eat. You also have a carcass left over. I used to just throw it away, but an image from my childhood kept coming back to me, riddling me with guilt as I discarded what was left of the chicken victim. I am about to share something about my mother with you, and since she doesn’t own a computer and will never hear about this unless one of my siblings or their children rat me out, I am doing this with what I hope is complete impunity. My mother is a bone gnawer.
She was born in the 1930’s, and I think this is a remnant of being raised in a very large family during what were some very lean years. When we were kids and would eat meat that had bones, she would gnaw on her bones until every single scrap of protein had been separated from them. Not only that. She would chastise us when we did not follow suit.
“Are you really going to throw that out??? Look at all the meat left on that. I can’t believe you are throwing all that out.”
To give her credit, she did not try to gnaw on our bones, though there were times that her indignation reached high enough levels at all the “good meat” being consigned to the trash can, that I am sure the thought crossed her mind. So in honor of my mother Linda, I have named my chicken carcass soup after her, because every last bit of meat from a former chicken is utilized in this recipe. Not quite as glamorous as a star on the sidewalk in Hollywood, not quite as fulfilling as a Nobel prize, not quite as enriching as a winning Powerball ticket, but something none the less. Just no one tell her.
Before we get to the cooking bit, I have to share something I discovered while writing this post. Being the challenged speller that I am (those darn double letters always get me), I had to look up how to spell carcass. Not only did I find out how to spell carcass, I discovered an extreme metal band from Liverpool called Carcass. According to Wikipedia, “Although widely regarded as pioneers of the grindcore genre, their early work was also tagged as splatter death metal, hardgore and goregrind, on account of their morbid lyrics and gruesome album covers.” A few particularly piquant song titles from their debut album, “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” (no, I am not making this up), are Necro-cannibal Bloodfeast, Regurgitation of Gibblets, Malignant Defecation (I should forward them my post about my Rush Limbaugh colon cleanse; see Rambling Writings), and my personal favorite, possibly because of its understated elegance, Festerday. Reminds me of a song by another band from Liverpool. Please, please, please look them up on Wikipedia, because their album and song titles were all so poetic, it was physically painful for me to chose only these few examples to share.
1 roasted chicken carcass
1 onion (I prefer purple)
3 large carrots
3 – 4 potatoes
1 – 2 peppers (orange, yellow, or red)
3 -4 kale leaves
3 garlic gloves (or the frozen cubes from Trader Joe’s)
salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
sweet curry mix (from Penzey’s)
Fill a large cooking pot a bit more than half way full with water. Take the carcass out of the fridge where it was stashed the night before and break it up into pieces, pulling the larger pieces of meat from the bones. Toss everything into the pot of water. Everything. The skin, tendons, bones, meat, fat, and congealed liquid that has turned into some kind of meat jelly on the bottom of the plastic dish the chicken came in. Throw it all in the pot and turn on the heat to high to get things boiling. Keep it at a rolling boil for a good 20 minutes.
Toss in the garlic, salt, pepper, and all those other spices I listed up above. Or use your favorite spices and ignore mine. I start with some, and then taste as I cook, adding more of this and that until I think it tastes good. So I don’t have any measurements for the spices. After boiling the chicken in all those spices for a good 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
Next, grab tongs, fork, and a bowl, and pull out all the stuff you would not want to find on your spoon as you are trying to eat. Bones, skin, the stringy fatty bits. It takes a good 10 minutes to get that stuff out, but you want to do it before you add the veg. First I fish out all the floaters, then I pull out tongfuls of stuff and put it on a plate to separate out the bits I don’t want. You could also strain everything and sort in the colander, if that works better for you.
After you are pretty sure you have gotten out most of the inedible stuff (invariably you miss a few bits, so warn anyone that you feed it to that there might be a small bone or two), turn the heat back on to simmer. Cut up the onions, peppers, carrots and potatoes into bite size pieces. Throw them into a bowl with about an inch of water on the bottom, and then cover and cook them in the microwave for about 5 minutes. Then toss them into the soup. This cuts down on the simmer time, and makes sure that the carrots and potatoes, in particular, are cooked through. Finally, tear up the kale leaves into small pieces and add them.
Simmer the soup for about another 20 minutes. Now is the time to sample and season, adding spices as you feel the soup needs it. You will probably also need to add some more water. Sometimes instead of water I add vegetable or chicken stock, or bouillon if I don’t have stock. Depends on how much flavor I managed to cook out of the chicken.
In about an hour you will have a big pot of chicken and vegetable soup. You can freeze some, or take some to the neighbors. So make my soup, and stop wasting all that good meat!