Shmaltz

Hannukah is over but the whole house smells like chicken fat. I am making a Christmas tradition: chicken pot pie x2. One gets eaten for dinner, the other gets frozen and shlepped to our friend Mark’s mama for her Christmas dinner. It is flattering to be so in-demand.

I treat chicken with what I consider to be an almost surgical cleanliness- a level of hygiene reserved for that most filthy of birds and one not remotely replicated in my other habits. I am the person who sometimes forgets soap when hand-washing, and whose dishes sometimes come out with bits left on them. Ted teases me about it, but it is so had to care more about dishes than I already do! Still, chicken is safely assumed to be toxic, so the smell of meat is accented by the smell of bleach.

Christmas always seems to sneak up on me. You think it’s a week away, and then all of a sudden the actual half-week leading up to it is commandeered by an infinite number of family gatherings requiring the scheduling of car-pools and overnight bags and bread-gifts. So of course I forgot to thaw the damn chicken before today. The frozen chicken then, requires all sorts of dealing-with. Attempt to thaw the chicken in the microwave. Give up. Unwrap the chicken from its butcher paper and try to peel off the little cardboard tray it sits in (Why Frank’s, why?) Give up scraping at bits of stuck-on paper with fingernail, put chicken in pot of water, scrub fingernail for a few minutes. Go back to the gchat. Realize that the chicken has its skin on still, and that stock you’re hoping for is going to be unusably greasy, so haul out the bird and strip it. This part is sort of fun, like trying to take off one’s outermost sweater layer while driving, if one was wearing so many sweaters one is halfway immobile and the sweater is sticking to one’s skin. Gchat keeps pinging.

Anyway, finish wrangling the little guy out of its skin and pop him back in the bath. The skin gets cut into bitses and put over very low heat to render. Later, we will cook red-skinned potatoes in this fat and eat them until our eyes roll back in our heads. This happens faster if you have some fresh sage around too.

Once the chicken is poached (skimming scum meanwhile) it comes out and gets pulled into bites. Bones go back in the pot with some bay leaves and salt to finish becoming stock. If it was just me eating, this part would be super quick, but people are squeamish, so I try to fish all the little tendons and cartilage nubbins out of the meat. I am such a nurturer.

I like my pot pie classic: mirepoix, pea. Saute and dump into the chicken-holder. If you aren’t having shmaltzy potatoes on the side maybe throw one in, par-cooked. Make a roux and stir in some stock and milk or cream. Pour that all over the chicken-vegerable mixture. Put some biscuits on it! Though I have had some memorable exceptions (Aunt Jean, I am looking at you!) I believe that biscuit is the More Delicious Topping, beating out pie crust. Actually, I think in the pantheon of breads and bread products, biscuit is like, Apollo. (Sourdough is Zeus?) (Cookies are like those bastard sons of Zeus that are always getting in trouble with nymphs and dying. Except crescents, those are some better spawn of Zeus. A muse maybe. Actually, that makes sense, as there are precisely 12 delicious cookies in the world.)

COMING SOON: LYDIA’s PANTHEON OF BREAD & BREAD PRODUCTS

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