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The Ugly Green Pot


By Becky Hoff

Fri, Oct 18th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

An ugly, enameled green dutch oven sits in a place of honor upon my stove. It sits rather heavily, for it is made of cast iron. In this one cooking vessel roasts are seared, sauces stirred up, chickens roasted, soups simmered and on rare occasions it has even been used as a mixing bowl. Were I to pare down my cooking pots and pans to just the bare essentials, the ugly green pot would stay. Truly is a most versatile vessel.

The colder it gets outside, the more frequently the ugly green pot is put to use. It is the perfect container from which to serve warm comfort foods. Soups and stews reign supreme from October to March in my household, and are generally served once or twice per week.

The basis of any good soup is a good stock, and with that in mind I am sharing some tips for making homemade soup stocks. As you probably already know, soup stock is the lovely liquid we get when simmering leftover meat bones with vegetables and herbs for several hours. The solids are then strained out, the liquid cooled, and the fat skimmed off of the top. Then the stock is put to use! The most common stock used in my household is chicken or turkey, but a nice beef or ham stock is always a welcome change.

Tip One: Keep it simple! You don’t need to add a lot to your bones to get good flavored stock. Typically I will add carrot cut into chunks, a rib or two of celery, a quartered onion, a few peppercorns, garlic cloves, sprigs of parsley, and a bay leaf. A splash or two of vinegar and some salt are added to this at some point along the way.

Tip Two: Don’t add too much water. Add water to cover your bones, and not much more than that. I don’t use more than a gallon of water, and sometimes less than that when making stock. Remember you can always dilute a strong stock, but weak stock is just...weak.

Tip Three: Save those pan drippings! The juice leftover from a roast of beef, the drippings you didn’t use for gravy from the Thanksgiving turkey- these are excellent additions to your stock pot. They may be a bit fatty, but if you strain and cool your stock before using it, you can skim all that fat off of the top and out of your stock.

Tip Four: A gentle simmer is all that is required. Bring the pot to a boil, but then lower it to a simmer for long cooking. Boiling will overly reduce your liquid volume and may destroy some of the more delicate flavors in the stock.

Tip Five: The freezer is your friend. Freeze your leftover bones until you have enough to make a pot of stock. Saving the bones from multiple chicken dinners means making larger batches of stocks less frequently. The freezer also comes in handy for freezing your stock in the portions you require for recipes.

Tip Six: The frozen porch is also your friend. Make soups, stews and stocks in the dead of winter. One of the silver linings of a good Minnesota cold snap is that everyone temporarily gains a walk-in freezer. This is important because a heavy stock pot full of hot liquid can be difficult to fit in the fridge- and for safety reasons it is important to cool stock quickly. (Stock is the perfect medium for growing bacteria.)

A well fitting lid is essential if you’re going to leave food outdoors. I transfer foods into the ugly green pot if I am going to put them outdoors, because it comes with a five pound cast iron lid. So far no animal has ever tampered with my leftovers when I leave them on the porch in freezing weather. I think the heavy lid is a nice safety feature, just in case.

Tip Six, Part II: The Empire Makes Stock. Obviously a frozen porch is not available to us year round, so when you have to cool off a large quantity of stock in a hurry, try partially submerging the pot in a sink full of ice water and whisking the stock to cool it down. In spite of my love for the ugly green pot, I tend to use a lighter weight and taller stainless steel stock pot when making stock. (Makes sense to use a stock pot for stock making, doesn’t it?) It is easier to lift and cool.

Tip Seven: Use grated carrots in your soups and stocks. Grated carrots melt away and add more color to the broth. They make for a more cohesive finished product as opposed to diced carrots, which often manage to avoid the spoon.

When you are tired of the same old thing, its always nice to pick a new recipe and give it a try. That’s what I did last month when a friend shared a recipe for Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. It has quickly become a household favorite and will no doubt be made many times this fall and winter. Feel free to experiment with this recipe! Add celery, take out the mushrooms- try leeks and shallots instead of onions. In another month we will all have leftover turkey to deal with, and a turkey version of this soup would be very nice.

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

1 & 1/2 cups dry wild rice blend

1-2 cups diced chicken meat

3 medium carrots, peeled and shredded

one large white onion, diced

8-12 ounces mushrooms, chopped into small pieces

2-3 tablespoons butter

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 quarts of chicken stock (Plus more for cooking rice.)

12 ounce can of evaporated milk

white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Cook rice according to package directions, using broth instead of water. If your rice doesn’t come with directions, bring the rice and 3 cups of stock to a boil, cover, then reduce heat to low. Simmer on low for 50 minutes.

Heat butter and oil in a heavy duty pot. Add onion, carrot and mushrooms, sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Saute for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

Add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly to keep flour from sticking and burning. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat down too low when doing this- the flour needs to cook.

Slowly add broth, scraping bottom of the pot to loosen up any flour stuck to the bottom.

Add chicken meat and wild rice, and a splash of white wine vinegar. If you’re not sure how much vinegar to add, just start with a teaspoon or two. The goal is not a vinegary soup, but a small amount of acid will improve the overall flavor. Plain white vinegar may be substituted if you don’t have white wine vinegar, but take care not to use too much. (Alternatively, you could just leave the vinegar out. I will be disappointed, but I will do my best to hide it from you.)

Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken.

Slowly stir in condensed milk, simmer soup for another 5 minutes.

Taste soup, and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve!

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