Chicken Skin

Crispy chicken skin.Really you shouldn’t end up with an excess of chicken skin very often.  The skin is a delicious and coveted part of fried chicken and roast chicken, and if it’s well-rendered it can also go into some cold, day-after preparations like chicken salad sandwiches.

But if you are shredding leftover chicken to make chicken noodle soup or chicken stew, you may want to set the skin aside for another application.

Here’s how to turn cold, flabby, leftover chicken skin into golden brown, crispy pieces of crackling. Line a sheet tray with parchment and lay out the pieces of chicken skin so they are flat.  Place another sheet of parchment on top, and then another sheet tray on top of that, so that you have sandwiched the skin between the trays.  This is just to keep the skin from curling up.  It may also help them cook evenly, now that I think of it.

Bake in a 350°F oven until crisp and deep golden brown with an amber hue.

You now have what are essentially chicken skin crackers.  You may be wondering what you should do with them.  Here are some ideas.  Crumble them onto soups, and into salads.  Use them as a base for an hors d’oeuvre, or as a crispy garnish for any number of dishes.  Mac and cheese comes to mind.  In my opinion the supreme usage for crispy chicken crackling is to layer it generously onto a tomato sandwich.  Spicy chili mayo, pickled red onions, and rocket can play welcome supporting roles in this venture.

A sandwich made with tomato, chili mayo, pickled onion, and crispy chicken skin.

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A squirrelLast week I went on a hunting trip with Kevin, and I shot and killed my first animal.  It was a squirrel.

I know: that’s not very impressive.  I’m sure most boys who grow up in the country have done this by age ten.  And I know: you think squirrel is something that only hillbillies or starving back-country adventurers eat.  Actually it’s pretty tasty.

Once skinned, gutted, and cleaned, the squirrel carcass looked very much like a tiny rabbit.  The meat was shockingly dark.  I thought that a small critter with such rapid, twitching movements would have light meat.

The cleaned carcass:

The cleaned squirrel carcass.

I divided the squirrel that same way I would a rabbit: into forequarters, a saddle, and hindquarters.

The squirrel carcass divided into quarters and saddle.

I made a simple stew.  I had a sausage on hand, so I removed the casing and cooked the meat in the pot to get some of the fat.  I seared the squirrel in that sausage fat, then added onion and garlic and sautéed briefly.  I poured in some leftover Labrador tea, brought it to a boil, then added wild rice.  The stew was gently simmered over the fire until the wild rice had popped and the squirrel was tender.  Mid-way through I added some potato.  I finished the stew by wilting foraged dandelion.

Squirrel stew in a pot over the fire.

So, how did baby’s first squirrel dish taste?  It was good.  The squirrel meat itself reminded me of spruce grouse more than anything else.


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Drying Herbs

A basket of dried herbs“Fresh is best.”

Armed with this maxim many chefs spurn dried herbs.  I’d like to go to bat for dried herbs.  Not the dried herbs that have been in your pantry since Harper took office, and certainly not the dried powdered herbs you buy in one pound bags from a bulk store, but the dried herbs that you make from the plethora of fresh herbs you have languishing in your autumn backyard.

I take for granted that you have a plethora of fresh herbs languishing in your autumn backyard.

You should, because it’s important to use lots of herbs in cooking, and paying $4 for a 28 g packet at the grocery store is crazy.  You can buy an entire plant for that amount, a plant that will grow to produce several times more herbs that are probably of a higher quality than what is available in stores.  And if buying fresh herbs from the grocery store is crazy, buying dried herbs at their inflated cost is sheer raving lunacy.

What herbs to dry. Chefs distinguish between fine herbs and resinous herbs.  Fine herbs are delicate and usually eaten raw.  Examples are basil, parsley, chervil, and tarragon.  Resinous herbs are more robust and are usually cooked.  Examples are rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, savoury, and bay.

Fine herbs are terrible for drying.  The flavour compounds in fresh fine herbs are extremely volatile, and the drying process drives them out with the water.

Most of our common resinous herbs, however, originate in the hot, dry Mediterranean, so their aromatics easily withstand the drying process.

How to dry herbs.  Online you can find all sorts of tricks for drying herbs using an oven or a microwave.

Using an oven is a bad idea.  Even at the lowest settings the heat will destroy the aromatics in the herbs.  Microwaves happen to work brilliantly for drying herbs, because they selectively heat water, leaving the plant cells and the oily aromatic compounds more or less in tact.  That being said, the truth is that you can make fantastic dried herbs without the help of any modern technology, because resinous herbs are already low in moisture, and they already have biochemical defences against micro-organisms, so they’re going to dry out fairly quickly as long as they are left exposed to air.  Some techniques:

  • A large pot of rosemary drying indoorsSmall quantities of herbs can simply be picked and left to dry in a basket or on a tray on the counter, as shown in the photo above.
  • Some herbs will dry naturally in the garden bed.  They can be cut as entire dried bushes and brought to the kitchen.
  • Potted herbs can be brought inside to dry out without being destroyed by frost.
  • Large quantities of herbs can be bunched together with twine and hung from a hook on the kitchen ceiling, or from the rafters in your garage.  If you plan to leave them hanging for a long while, it’s smart to hang them inside an inverted brown paper bag to keep dust off them.

Herbs with small leaves like thyme will dry in a matter of days.  Larger specimens like sage might take a couple weeks to become completely dry and brittle.

How to Use Dried Herbs.  As a rule resinous herbs, whether fresh or dried, should be cooked.  Raw resinous herbs are chewy and bitter.  Cooking removes some of that bitterness and draws the flavour of the herb into your dish.

While fresh herbs should always be added at the end of cooking, I usually add dried herbs at the beginning.  For instance, if I’m making a soup or stew I’ll add the dried herbs while I sauté the onions and garlic.  I don’t know if scientifically this is the best practice, but a part of me feels that the herbs need time to wake up and become sapid.

Dried herbs are very versatile and can be used with any type of meat, but to me their supreme companion is poultry.  Beef has horseradish and mushrooms, pork has mustard, poultry has herbs.

Here’s a simple poultry rub to use up your plethora of dried herbs.


Poultry Rub


  • 2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp dried savoury
  • 1/2 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp celery seed


  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Transfer to a glass jar with a tight lid and store in a dark pantry.
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A large piece of horseradish rootThe gnarly root pictured at left is horseradish.

Horseradish is a hearty plant; it can flourish almost anywhere in our fair city.  I remember when I was in culinary school I would catch a bus at the intersection of 118 Avenue and 106 Street, and there was a perfectly healthy horseradish plant living in a crack in the sidewalk.

Horseradish could in fact be described as invasive.  It doesn’t spread too fast, but once it’s established, it’s nearly impossible to remove.  I hack enormous chunks out of the root system of my plant and it always recovers.

The root has a pungent flavour very similar flavour to its relatives mustard and wasabi.  (Actually most of the “wasabi” that you’ve eaten with your sushi is actually just horseradish powder dyed green.[1])  It can be finely grated and eaten raw for delicious, mustardy pangs of flavour.  I first saw this way of serving horseradish in Austria, where they grate fresh horseradish into a snowy heap to accompany boiled beef and cured pork.  Before that I was only familiar with prepared horseradish, which is grated horseradish that has been treated with vinegar and jarred.

Horseradish, like mustard, only develops its hot pungency once its cell walls are ruptured by grating or crushing, at which time an enzyme liberates the irritant molecule.    Acid slows the enzymes and to a certain extent and “sets” the pungency, so the longer you wait to add vinegar after grating horseradish, the hotter your preparation will be.

I mix roughly one part each of grated horseradish and cider vinegar by weight, then add a bit of salt and white sugar.  This mixture stores well in the fridge, though it will slowly discolour and turn grey without the addition of preservatives.

Some homemade prepared horseradish

As an aside, the leaves of the horseradish plant are also delicious.  They have the same sharp flavour as the root.  They are best enjoyed in spring, as they get tough and fibrous later in the year.

Horseradish greens



1. This according to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking.  Page 417 of the first Scribner revised edition 2004.

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Apple Strudel

Apple strudel, fresh from the oven.The most common form of strudel in North America is puff pastry and filled with sticky jam or compote, the final product very similar to a turnover or a chausson.

The original strudel, the Viennese strudel, is a different beast entirely.

Austrian strudel is made with a simple dough consisting of flour, salt, water, and vegetable oil.  High protein flour is used, and the dough is mixed extensively so that there is intensive gluten development.  This allows the baker to stretch the dough until it is so thin it is almost transparent.  The expression in Austrian kitchens is that the dough should be thin enough that you could hold the dough over a newspaper and read the text through the dough.  In concept the dough is similar to phyllo, though the finished baked goods that the two doughs make differ greatly.

A dough that has been stretched so thin must be layered several times for the pastry to have any structure.  With phyllo, the baker stacks a few sheets of the dough, separating each with a layer of butter.  During baking the water content of the butter turns to steam and keep the layers of dough separate.  The butter also aids in the browning of the pastry.

With strudel a similar effect is created not by stacking sheets of dough, but by spreading butter over a single sheet and then rolling the sheet around itself a few times.  Since the dough is so delicate, the traditional method is to stretch the dough out on a table cloth, add the filling, then lift the tablecloth so that the filled pastry rolls away from the baker.

When prepared properly and eaten fresh, strudel is a very unique pastry.  I compare the preparation of the dough to phyllo, but the eating experience is completely different.  Baked phyllo is delicate like thinnly blown glass: it is brittle, and fractures if you press on it.  Strudel dough is delicate and slightly crisp, but also has a little bit of give to its structure.  It is firm and crisp but also slightly yielding and pliable.

How this preparation ended up as a puff pastry turnover, I have no idea.


Apple Strudel

Dough Ingredients

  • 225 g bread flour
  • 4 g kosher salt
  • 195 mL water
  • 35 mL canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Filling Ingredients

  • 900 g apple, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced into pieces not exceeding 1/4″ thickness
  • 240 g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp rum
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 360 mL toasted breadcrumbs
  • 450 g unsalted butter, melted

Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with a dough hook on high speed for 10 minutes.  This is a very slack dough.  It will pool on the bottom of the mixer bowl.  After mixing, cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for several hours, or overnight.

Once you are ready to stretch the dough, rub flour into a clean tablecloth.

Stretch the dough until it is extremely thin.  The recipe above should be able to be stretched into a sheet that is 2′ x 3′.  Most bakers use the back of their hand to do this.

Stretching traditional Austrian strudel dough by hand.

The stretched dough:

The fully stretched strudel dough

Brush the entire surface with melted butter, then generously sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs.  The breadcrumbs help keep the layers of dough separate.  Lay out the apple mixture in a line along the 3′ edge closest to you.

Filling the strudel dough with toasted breadcrumbs and apples

Lift the edge of the tablecloth closest to you so that the apples fall away from you and roll themselves in dough multiple times.

The raw strudel, all rolled up.

Now you have to get this two foot long pastry onto a tray somehow.  You may need an extra set of hands to accomplish this.  You can curl or snake the strudel to fit it onto your bake sheet.

The rolled strudel on its baking tray, ready to be baked.

Bake at 425°F until the pastry is golden brown and crispy, and the apple filling is softened and started to leech sugary goodness onto the pan, about 30-40 minutes.  Dust with icing sugar.

The finished, whole strudel, ready to be cut.

Let stand to cool before cutting.  Service with whipped cream.

A piece of strudel awaiting whipped cream.

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Fried Apple Peels

Fried apple skins tossed with sugar and salt.The only time you should ever peel apples is when you are going to cook them.  Once cooked apple skins are hard, like photography film, if you can remember what that tastes like.

The only time I peel and cook apples is when I’m making apple pie or apple sauce, which is only a few times a year.  Most of the apples that pass through our home are crushed and pressed whole to make cider.  In this process the skins are broken up very fine so that they lend some body and tannin to the drink.

What I mean to say is I don’t actually peel very many apples.  But when I do peel those very few apples it bothers me to throw out the skins, because they are actually quite tasty.

So one day instead of dropping those peels in the trash can I dropped them in a pot of hot oil.

It’s difficult to get all the moisture out, to make them brittle and delicate and crisp, without the peels getting too dark and bitter.  The trick is to pull them from the oil when the bubbling has mostly subsided: they will still be limp, but once they cool they will be crispy.  Toss them with a pinch of salt and a three-finger pinch of sugar and they make a great garnish for any number of sweet or savoury dishes.

Below they are pictured with cornbread pudding, poached apples, and buttermilk ice cream, but they could just as easily be put on top of a bowl of squash and apple soup, or even a plate of grilled pork chops with apple sauce.

Cornbread pudding with poached apples, vanilla ice cream, and whisky caramel sauce


Addendum I

The photo above reminds me of a chef I once worked for.  One night we ran veal sweetbreads, floured and pan-fried, with chanterelle mushrooms and a reduction sauce.  We tasted the first plate, and I asked if maybe the dish needed another component for some colour, some visual contrast.  He said, “Five shades of brown is a beautiful thing.”


Addendum II

If kids love anything these days it’s foams and powders.  With this in mind one of the young cooks in our kitchen put some fistfuls of gangly apple skins into our dehydrator.  Two days later they were perfectly dry, like tumbleweed fragments.  Not quite as satisfying to eat on their own as the fried version, but a few brief moments in a blender and they made a surprisingly flavourful apple powder.  The cook then mixed this powder into a bowl of whipped butter to make “apple’d butter”.  A bit highfalutin for Button Soup, but I thought I’d mention it.

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On Cooking Resinous Herbs

Last night I ate out at an Italian restaurant, one of them new-fangled Italian joints that have hardly any tomato sauce on the menu, and nary a checkered table-cloth or plastic grape vine in sight.  I had a bowl of squash tortelloni with brown butter and sage, a classic dish from the hallowed kitchens of Emilia-Romagna.  The sage was raw.

People usually freak out over raw chicken, not raw herbs, but eating those fuzzy, grey, acrid sage leaves was at least as unpleasant as contracting salmonella.

Chefs distinguish between fine herbs and resinous herbs.  Fine herbs are delicate and usually eaten raw.  Examples are basil, parsley, chervil, and tarragon.  Resinous herbs are more robust and are usually cooked.  Examples are rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, savoury, and most definitely sage.

We cook resinous herbs because they are chewy and harsh when raw.  If you would like to use a large piece of resinous herb like sage as a garnish, it absolutely needs to be cooked in oil or butter, after which it will be delicate, crisp, and vibrant in colour.

The herbs should be cooked rapidly and thoroughly.  The oil should jump to a lively sizzle as soon as the herbs are added.  Rapid cooking will preserve colour, and thorough cooking will eliminate all moisture and ensure the herbs are crisp and not at all chewy.  The frying is complete when the oil no longer bubbles vigorously around the herbs.

When you fry herbs you are not only crisping the herb, you are also flavouring the oil or butter.  Not to the extent of a concentrated herb oil, but enough to make a great sauce.  Squash tortelloni with brown butter and sage being a classic example.

Fried sage and rosemary

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Chicken Stew

chickent_stewUnlike beef stew, which I make from fresh cuts of beef, chicken stew is foremost a way of reclaiming and elevating leftover roast chicken.

There’s not much point in stewing chickens these days.  Old recipes like coq au vin are from a time when we actually let some of our birds grow old enough to be tough and require stewing to tenderize.  Basically all of the chickens that we eat now are less than two months old, so their meat is extremely tender.  Stewing these birds only dries them out.

However, if you happen to have leftover roast chicken, shredding the meat and coating it in the sauce of a stew returns some moisture and savour to the meat.

In other words I consider this a great secondary preparation.  Roast a chicken for Sunday dinner, make stock from its bones on Monday, have chicken salad sandwiches on Tuesday, and chicken stew on Wednesday.

Obviously the exact vegetables should change with the seasons.  Below is an example of a late summer version using corn, bell peppers, zucchini, and potato.


Chicken Stew


  • 75 g unsalted butter
  • 200 g onion, 3/4″ chunks
  • 20 g garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 175 g carrot, 3/4″ chunks
  • 100 g celery, 3/4″ chunks
  • 60 mL dry cider or white wine
  • 150 g red bell pepper, 3/4″ chunks
  • 500 g Yukon gold potato, 3/4″ chunks
  • 90 g corn kernels
  • 1 L good chicken stock (approximately)
  • 250 g zucchini, 3/4″ chunks
  • 400 g chicken, shredded or cut into 3/4″ chunks
  • 120 mL chopped herbs, ideally a mixture of parsley, thyme, rosemary, and sage
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • kosher salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste


  1. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Sweat the onion, garlic, paprika, and oregano in the butter until the onions are starting to turn translucent.
  2. Add the cider or white wine and reduce by 2/3.
  3. Add the carrot, celery, bell pepper, potato, and corn.  Add chicken stock until the vegetables are just, just covered.
  4. Simmer very gently until the vegetables are tender.  The potatoes will take the longest.  Add the zucchini for the last 10 minutes.
  5. Remove 500 mL of the stew and blitz into a smooth purée in a blender.  Add the purée back into the the sew.
  6. Add the chicken, fresh herbs, and vinegar.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired.

Yield: about 2 L of chicken stew

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How to Cut Bell Peppers

For most applications the inside of a bell pepper, the pale membrane holding all the seeds, needs to be removed.  In my experience most home cooks do this by cutting the pepper in half, then scooping out the seeds with their fingers.  Frankly this is barbarous: it’s a slow, clumsy method that will always leave seeds behind.

Your knife is faster and more fastidious than your fingers.  Here’s a quick and thorough way to separate the core from the flesh.

Cut the top and bottom off the pepper.



Make a vertical cut through the wall of the pepper, then run your knife along the inside of the wall, like so:



In this manner you can quickly remove the core of the pepper in one piece without having to fuss over each individual seed.  You also now have a perfect rectangle of crispy, juicy bell pepper that can be cut into uniform strips.





A visual summary of what we just did.



The stem of the pepper can be composted.  The core has some flavour to it, and is most welcome in vegetable broths, especially those being used in corn chowder.

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Herb Oil

Tarragon oil floating on pear and parsnip soupHerb oil is a powerful tool to have in your culinary belt.

It is a fantastic way to preserve a glut of herbs, especially a glut of herbs that are past their prime, for instance basil that is starting to get moist and speckled.  This less-than-attractive basil still has loads of flavour.  And parts of the herb that are usually discarded, say the thick, woody stem of a basil plant, are also full of flavour, and make great herb oil.  Herb oil keeps for weeks in the fridge and months in the freezer, and if made properly it is a stunning, concentrated, lustrous, fluid version of the plant it is made from.

My herb oil process is ripped directly from The French Laundry Cookbook.  There are a few pages devoted to herb oils in that influential tome.

You can make oil from almost any herb, but to me fine aromatic herbs (have I mentioned basil yet?) make the best oils.  Resinous herbs like thyme and rosemary will make flavourful oil, but not with the striking, vibrant green of their more delicate relatives.  I usually add a bit of parsley or carrot tops when making oils with resinous herbs; it will dilute the flavour slightly, but brighten the green colour.

Basil that has been blanched to improve the colour.Blanching.  We always blanche herbs before making oil.  Blanching means cooking quickly in boiling water.  In this case it is entirely aesthetic.  For a detailed description of how blanching improves the colour of green plants, please see this post.

While green vegetables like broccoli might be blanched for a few minutes, herbs only need about thirty seconds.

After blanching, the herbs should be dunked in ice water to arrest the cooking process.  After chilling, press the herbs with a dish towel to remove as much water as possible.

Blitzing.  Put the blanched herbs into a blender, and add just enough oil so that the blender can cycle the mixture and cut the herbs fine.  The higher your ratio of herbs to oil, the better the colour and flavour of your finished herb oil will be.

I use neutral canola oil, as I want the finished product to taste purely of the herb.  Depending on the final application, you can certainly use other, more flavourful oils like olive or flax.

Blitz the herbs for at least a few minutes.  The more you destroy the herbs cells walls, the better your extraction will be, and the more flavourful your oil.

Infusion Period.  If you’re hardcore you’ll leave your herb slurry in the fridge overnight to extract as much flavour from the herbs into the oil as possible.

Straining.  Pour the herb slurry into a chinois, a fine mesh strainer, and let it drip filter.  Don’t press the slurry to force the oil through, as this will let small particles through that will cloud your oil.

Storage.  Best stored in the fridge or even the freezer to preserve the fresh aroma and flavour of the herbs.  These oils can also be sensitive to light.  One afternoon I left a beautiful verdant basil oil on the kitchen counter in direct sunlight.  By dinner time it was brown.

Use.  I don’t know if serious chefs still do this, but I love floating oil on top of soups: pumpkinseed oil on squash soup, tarragon oil on parsnip pear soup (pictured above), basil oil on tomato soup.  It’s a great way to feature the oil, which can get lost in, say, a salad.


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