|tomatillo husks make lovely flowers, if you have both time and tomatillos on your hands|
A while ago our pal Tommy brought us some frozen chickens. He raises chickens like we do, in the sense that we both have chickens. We differ in scale (by a couple of powers of ten) and in that his birds retire to the freezer when their egg-laying days are concluded, rather than reclining on a bed of free room and board like ours do. His is the practical approach. Ours is the ridiculous approach. There's no vegetarian moral high ground for us to speak from; we eat chicken, just not our own.
“These are stew birds,” he told me, and I thanked him profusely and stowed them in the freezer and promptly forgot that little tidbit of information. So the first one that I cooked I roasted, producing something with a texture that pretty well approximated a hot sneaker, or so I imagine. I have never actually chewed on a sneaker. But now I have come as close as I need to get to that experience.
Chicken Two was oven-braised, and that was absolutely the correct course of action to take. I am not congratulating myself for thinking of it, because it happened pretty accidentally as I was whirling around trying to get my house in order for a week away.
Being far away from my family for an entire week is what you might call pretty unusual for me, if 'pretty unusual' is how you might describe a flying octopus. My family is a stalwart bunch and will be fine while I am away—fine, you hear me, fine. On a last-minute grocery run before I left, my younger daughter rattled off a number of very practical items she might desire for the making of her lunch while I am not on deck to do the usual nineteen runs to the store that normally occur during the week due to the fact that I shop like a dimwit and always forget something (usually it is my list) so I am perpetually circling back. Then she plunked, with a degree of defiant sass, a large package of mint Newman-O’s into the cart. Have a nice time away, Cat, said the Mousie.
Even with a large package of cookies to eat for breakfast or whenever else the mood strikes, any lingering anxiety my kiddos might feel around any departure of mine is generally held in the stomach region. So I tried to bung a good selection of dinners in the freezer. They may not eat them, but they were more content to see me go knowing they had something in the bank. Or maybe that was me. Anyway, the oven-braised chicken thoughtfully supplied four meals—two while I was home, and a matching set that I tucked away.
I can’t show you a picture of any of these things, because the pictures that I may or may not have taken are (or aren’t) an ocean away from me. Maybe I can rectify that later. In the meantime, while I watch someone sleep, I will just talk to you about chicken.
You don't have to start with a retired egg-laying chicken, or even a whole chicken. Parts would work, too.
|salsa in smaller quantities makes less of a mess, don't worry|
You can make some green salsa (I did, with my canning pals, and it is heaven to eat and simple to make), or you can buy a jar of salsa and treat this like housewife food.
It's all sounding kind of vague, I realize. In recipe terms, I am not sure how useful this will be to you. But writing it out sure is useful to me at the moment.
I set out to make chicken stew, the kind with chunks of chicken and potatoes and maybe a carrot or a dumpling. Something Almanzo might have eaten in Farmer Boy. I took my vintage bird, put a whole, peeled onion and several garlic cloves and a bay leaf in its cavity and set it into my big dutch oven. I added water to about halfway up the bird, and I rubbed a little olive oil, paprika, salt and ground cumin on the exposed parts. I brought it all to a low boil on the stovetop, then covered the pot and stuffed it into a heated 350 degree oven, which I promptly turned down to 275.
I went on about my day, which was a full one. About three hours later, I recalled the chicken.
It resembled a roasted chicken when I looked at it, but a single poke revealed that I had pulled chicken on the menu instead of stew. The moisture in the covered pot had softened it to shreds, but the exposed part had browned and gave the whole pot a nice roasty aroma. In a matter of minutes, using what my son used to call the "cooking tweezers" (these are tongs, to the rest of you), the bones and gridgy bits were separated from the meat. The broth was pretty liquid, so when I threw the tidied-up meat back into it, I added the potatoes, since I had cut them up already, and I baked it some more, until the potatoes were done. It was dinner time by then, so we ate some of it just like that, bland as it was, and were happy enough.
The more memorable thing happened with the second half: a green chile enchilada that was devoured as by a pack of wolverines (notoriously fond of enchiladas).
I think this is how I did that:
12 corn tortillas
16 oz tomatillo salsa
1/2 cup chopped roasted green chiles (roast some poblanos if you feel jiggy; buy a can if you do not)
2 to 3c of coarsely shredded jack or cheddar, divided (half to 3/4 #, depending on your fondness for cheese; the cheesy bits are the most sought-after bits in our house)
about half a roasted, shredded or pulled chicken
optionally, 3 or four boiled, steamed or roasted potatoes, cubed
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small, heavy skillet until it ripples. Using the cooking tweezers, lay a tortilla flat in the oil, count to four, flip it and repeat. Raise it up to let the excess oil drip off, and fling it on a plate. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, adding a little more oil as needed. Do not let them crisp, just seal them in the hot oil.
Spread about half a cup of salsa on the bottom of a 13 x 9 (or thereabouts) baking dish. Lay one tortilla down, put a glop of chicken, a few bits of green chile, a small bit of cheese and a teaspoon or so of salsa inside. Fold it in half loosely, informally and with a devil-may-care attitude, and shove it to one end of the dish. Repeat this process until all the tortillas are filled and lined up more or less in two rows in the dish. Pour half the remaining salsa down the center of one line of tortillas, sprinkle half the remaining cheese on top of that, and repeat for the other conga line. This is where a picture sure would be worth several hundred words. The idea is that the edges of the tortillas remain exposed to crisp a little in the oven; the salsa is a wide stripe in the middle, and the cheese goes on top of that to melt and be sought after.
Wrap it and freeze it and leave the house in peace; alternatively, bake in a hot oven, 350 to 375, for about 25 minutes, until hot and bubbly and the cheese is nicely browned.