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Monday, February 7, 2011

Mirepoix + Chicken = Limitless Meals


Do you ever run out of ideas--and maybe time too--for a variety of family friendly meals that don't cost a lot? Using chicken and mirepoix as a starting point, here are some suggestions for literally dozens of meals.

But, you ask, what is "mirepoix?" It may sound exotic, but it is really just onion, celery, and carrots sauteed in butter or oil and then added to other dishes. In Italian cookery, soffritto is almost the same, though that is almost always prepared with olive oil and may routinely include garlic and herbs specific to the region of the country where it is prepared.

I've included below a few basics that will put ready-to-eat chicken into the refrigerator/freezer and a batch of mirepoix in the refrigerator for a week's worth of menus. If you are really in a chopping and saute-ing mood, you can even freeze some of the mirepoix too, though it generally should not be kept there longer than a few weeks.

First, the chicken.

A few weeks ago, a local supermarket chain had a one day special, chicken leg quarters for 39 cents a pound, limit four packages please. For just over $7.00, I was able to get almost 19 pounds of chicken. Even with the bone in, that is a lot of meals! Though there have been times when I would cook all of this chicken at once (I have one of those big electric roasters you usually pull out just at Thanksgiving for the turkey), I decided to freeze three of the packages and cook only one right away. This particular package cost $1.43 and I still ended up with almost 4 cups (about 2 1/2 pounds) of firmly packed boneless chicken along with about 2 1/2 cups of rich broth. I divided the meat into four parts, freezing two and keeping the others out for two quick meals. The broth went into the refrigerator to be ready for soup, yet another meal; as it turned out, this was rich enough to serve as the base for two large batches of soup.




After I had pulled off most of the skin and fat from the chicken, I browned it in a little of the fat and discarded the rest. When the meat was browned on all sides, I covered it and let it simmer about 20 to 30 minutes more, until the meat was falling off the bones. If I had been short of time, I could have just dumped the chicken into a slow cooker, covered it, and let it go on LOW for several hours instead. The meat does not brown quite as well this way but will still work well in future dishes.

I then took the meat off the stove and put it in a colander to drain, being sure to save all that lovely broth that had developed. I was careful to scrape up all the drippings from the pan as well, adding them to the broth.

When the meat had cooled enough to handle, I quickly pulled it off the bones. This is a step that many of us don't really like to do, but I have found it to be more tolerable if I use those lightweight disposable plastic gloves that are available at dollar stores, Sam's Club, pharmacies, and many supermarkets at very reasonable prices.

As you may have noticed, there has been no seasoning added yet. Sometimes I do season the meat, but I was not sure what uses I would make of this, so I left all seasoning for each individual dish. I made sure to label the freezer portions as unseasoned.

Now the mirepoix.

I have found I can save some time by making enough mirepoix for a couple of meals, since it keeps for a few days in the refrigerator and goes into a wide variety of dishes. (Think of all the recipes that start out, "saute onion and celery..." This just adds the color, nutrition, and sweetness of carrots too.) Here is the "recipe" that I most often start with:

Basic Mirepoix

canola oil
1 large onion, chopped--about 2 cups
2 to 3 celery ribs, diced or sliced--1 to 2 cups, as desired
1 large or 2 medium carrots, diced or grated--about 2 cups

Put just enough oil in a heavy skillet (my preference is cast iron) to evenly cover the bottom. Heat so that the vegetables will sizzle slightly when added. Stir in all the vegetables, reduce heat to medium, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or so, until the onions are golden and the carrots are tender. I sometimes cover the pan and add a few drops of water to allow the simmering to continue a little longer.

And then...putting it all together...with what?

As long as this post is getting, I'll reserve the "what" for another entry. Stay tuned!

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