Joy of cooking then and now and then again

The internet has changed how I cook. Sort of. When I get an unfamiliar vegetable or heritage chicken from the farmers market I google it. Up pops some fabulous recipe from a food blogger. Then begins the search for the most authentic version of the recipe. An hour later, I surface. . . . and consult The Joy of Cooking.

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Joy of Cooking was my first cookbook. Today the paperback pages are brittle, the cover is creased, and there are water and food stains throughout. I remember rushing out to buy the New Joy of Cooking in 1997 – in hardcover. As I explore the world of local food, I like to see how different the two books are – and how newly relevant the old Joy of Cooking has become.

Last week I got a stewing hen from Cooper's Ark Farm at the Schenectady Greenmarket. When my mom lamented the fact 20 years ago that she couldn’t find stewing chickens in the grocery store any more, I had no idea what she was talking about. Now I do. My little stewing hen is one tough bird – and full of flavor.

Chicken Fricassee

The OLD Joy of Cooking recommends throwing the hen in a pot with a carrot, a celery stick, an onion and water to cover. Boil it, skim off the froth, and then simmer for hours. Once you have a broth, make a “pan gravy” with butter and flour and broth. Throw in the chicken meat, cook some noodles and you’re done.

The NEW Joy of Cooking assumes that your chicken is tasteless and finds flavor in other ways. You sautee onions, carrots, garlic, and celery; cut the chicken up into pieces and brown. Toss in some herbs and add broth from an aseptic container. Heat through and serve over noodles.

My chicken fricassee merged the two worlds.

I put the 2 lb. chicken, carrot, onion and celery in a crockpot and turned the heat to high until just bubbling. I skimmed off the froth and turned the heat down to low and let it cook until I got home from work. Then I strained the broth, cleaned the chicken, discarded the vegetables and set the broth aside to cool on the back porch (it’s cold!).  Next day I skimmed off the fat and reduced the broth down by about a third to make it nice and concentrated.

I like texture in my food so at this point I switched to JOC2. I sautéed onion, and garlic in butter in a heavy saucepan. I added flour to take up the grease and whisked my simmering broth into the pan. I kept adding broth until I had a nice gravy. Once I had the gravy I added the carrot slices, the celery, and cooked chicken and simmered the pot while I cooked the egg noodles.

The chicken meat was a little dry but the flavor more than made up for it. We tossed the leftover fricassee into prepared pie crust and had chicken pot pies. The leftover broth went into kale soup. Three intensely flavorful meals: not bad for a $6 hen!