Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Canning Chicken

Chicken is one of those things that scare even the most experienced jelly maker. It is a low-acid food, which means it needs to be processed in a pressure cooker. But with enough knowledge and a lack of freezer space, many are willing to give it a try.

Step One: Dispelling the myths of pressure cooking.

Like many of you reading, I had images in my mind of a pressurized pot blowing it's lid. This was something that happened in early models if they were not properly maintained, and where there was only one way for the steam to escape. There was also the fear of removing the lid too soon, allowing for the explosive escape of steam - and often food!

The first few times I used mine, I was paranoid - and watched it like a hawk, not even allowing the kids in the kitchen!

In newer models though, both are rare. There is a secondary steam release if pressure inside the cooker exceeds the designed amount, and there are safety features that lock the lid in place so it cannot be removed until the pressure inside is the same as outside the pot.

As with any kitchen appliance or tool, you should follow manufacturers instructions for maintenance though. I am not responsible for your lack of attention!

Step Two: Preparing the Canner

Whichever canner you have, be sure that you read through the instructions thoroughly, and make sure it is tall enough to hold a quart jar.

Get the canner on the stove with about three inches of water at a simmer. You'll need a case of quart jars, wash the jars - even if they are new, you want to wash them. Place each of the jars in the canner to heat, you want a hot hot jar to put the chicken in. My canner holds seven quart jars, but you'll probably only need five or six for the chickens.

Place the lids in hot but not boiling water to heat for about 30 seconds before using them to close the jars.

Set aside the rest of the jars for the broth and stock.

Step Three: Buying and Preparing the Chicken.

We can our chicken because we lack the freezer space to freeze it. That, and extra freezer space costs money that we are not willing to spend. When whole chickens are on sale, usually under $1 per pound, we buy a few. It's cheaper and tastes better to spend $20 on a case of jars and three sale-priced chickens than it is to buy the same amount of chicken, stock, and freezer space. Plus, you get to control what goes into it.

Yes, I said stock.

In preparing the chickens for canning, you'll need to separate out the legs, thighs, breasts, wings and backs. The backs and gizards go into the stock pot along with water, salt, pepper, garlic, onions, celery and carrots. Cook that down for a couple of hours. This can make about 3 quarts of stock, then you can take the same parts, pour a little more water over them and cook them for a while, and get a nice chicken broth, about 3 quarts of that.

Back to preparing the chickens though. Separate the legs and thighs from the body, then the wings and little drumsticks attached. The wings and little drumsticks can go into a zipper bag with some buffalo wing sauce to marinate until the next day for some yummy buffalo wings.

Place the legs, thighs and breasts into jars, leaving 1 inch between the top of the chicken and the top of the jar. Pour hot water over each of the jars, the water will filter down and fill spaces, you still need to leave an inch of head space. Using a thin, non-metallic item, slide it down between the jar and the chicken to remove any air bubbles, and pour more water in if needed to keep the one inch of space at the top of the jar.

Wipe the top and threads of each jar, place the lids and screw down the rings to finger-tight. This is kind of a balancing act, because too tight and the air cannot escape, too loose and you'll lose half the moisture out of the chicken.

Bring the canner to a boil, and check to see that there is still enough water in it. You'll need two to three inches. Place the filled jars in the canner, if there is an empty one, there's no reason to leave it in there. Place the lid on the canner, and lock it in place. Follow your canner's instructions to pressurize.

Process the chickens for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure at sea level. You canner will have instructions for processing at altitude, so read it! After the processing time is done, turn off the heat but do not attempt to open the canner, or even remove the weight until it has cooled. If you remove the weight too early, the pressure escapes from the canner, and most likely you'll unseal every jar in there if they don't crack first.

Step Four: Preparing the Chicken Stock.

While the chicken jars are processing, your stock is boiling away - taste it as it goes, but do not over salt it - the stock will condense a little as it cooks, concentrating the flavors. We also add poultry seasoning to the mix because it tastes good! The great part about this is that you are getting the absolute most out of your food dollar, and you know exactly what is in your food.

By the time the chicken is done processing and the canner can be safely opened, your stock is probably ready. Strain out the parts, you don't have to be super duper OCD about this, it doesn't have to be sparkling clear. At this point you have a choice: you can cool the broth enough to skim off the fat, or you can can it with the fat. I leave it in there, because well, fat is flavor - but you can skim it off if you want.

Clean out the canner and put fresh water in there to simmer with clean jars. 

If you want to stretch the chickens a little further, put the parts back in the stock pot and pour more water over them. Season it up a little more, and boil for about an hour. You'll get a nice chicken broth out of this that isn't as condensed a flavor as the stock is.  Strain this off and put in the jars while it's boiling hot. Again, heat the lids and wipe off the rim and threads of the jars, screw down the rings finger-tight.

Heat the stock back to boiling, and pour it into jars. Lid those and place everything in the canner. You should have about five-six quarts between the broth and the stock.

Follow your canner's instructions for pressurizing and process these for 25 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

Check all of your jars for a good seal after they have cooled, if something didn't seal, just put it in the fridge and use it first!

All of the instructions for canning times and pressure come from the Ball Blue Book of canning, I have just added a couple choices for stretching your food dollar. The more you can get from each item, the less you spend in the long run.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What to do with all those tomatoes?

We're planting our garden again this year, and again putting in six or so heirloom tomato varieties. Well my husband and twins are putting in the tomato plants - touching them makes me look like I just swam in poison oak. It's not fun.

So even though I am allergic to the plants, we do love our fresh tomatoes, and I have two little minions who love picking them for me. Back to the original reason for this post though, as spring goes on and tomatoes start coming ripe in the next couple of months, finding something to do with all those tomatoes! They are one of the most prolific of plants, pounds and pounds of them - some will be beautifully striped with red and gold, others will be dark pink, and I think we have a purple variety this year. I love heirloom tomatoes, they are sweet and flavorful, not loaded with tons of seeds and the weird mucous-like substance that surrounds them. I do not enjoy the hybridized varieties because they have very little flavor compared to the old heirloom varieties.

We have made salsa, eaten them on burgers, made marinara sauce and any number of other things that we could think of. This isn't a canning recipe, but delicious nonetheless, and takes care of as many tomatoes as you can eat with dinner.

Stuffed Tomatoes
Enough medium sized, ripe tomatoes for each family member.
Pine nuts for the top

For each tomato:
1/2 tbs fresh parmesan or romano cheese
1 1/2 tbs shredded mozzarella cheese 
1 1/2 tbs plain bread crumbs
1/2 clove crushed garlic or to taste
1 tsp finely minced onion
1 tsp finely minced mushrooms, button or portabello - your choice!
Italian seasoning to taste
light sprinkling of salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 375.

Cut the tops off each of the tomatoes, and carefully scoop out the middle, leaving enough of a wall of tomato to keep it from falling apart. If you have ever made stuffed potatoes, this process is very similar. Chop the insides of the tomatoes, and mix the chopped tomatoes together with all the other ingredients. TASTE IT and adjust your seasonings. If it seems like it needs more salt, add it. More garlic? Add it. Cooking is not an exact science - it ain't baking! But it is very subjective and your taste may be different than mine. I like a lot of garlic and cheese, some do not. I toned down the garlic a little in this recipe, but please, use a little common sense.

Stuff the filling into each of the tomato cavities, and sprinkle the tops with a little more of the cheeses. Place them in a greased baking pan, and into the oven until the tomatoes are slightly soft, about 15 minutes depending on the size and quantity of the tomatoes.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Loquat Jam

Loquats are those little yellow fruits that are shaped like a kumquat, but have 2-5 large seeds in the middle. They are lightly sweet, and the trees produce the fruits in amounts that put other trees to shame. As great a snack as they are, they make a terrific jam! The flesh is similar to a soft pear in texture, and as such makes something more akin to a fruit butter than the traditional idea of a jam. A fruit butter is a thick sauce - think apple sauce but thicker and spreadable.

While we do indeed can our loquat butter, there is no FDA approved method for doing it. Because it behaves in a very similar way to apples, we decided to treat it that way and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes. We have never had an issue with a jar going bad, tasting funny, losing a seal or changing color. With that said, use common sense and don't treat my blog as the end-all-be-all resource for canning. Do your own homework. If you are unsure whether a fruit is high acid, buy some litmus strips and test a small amount. It will be worth the peace of mind.

Prep a boiling water canner with enough clean jars for the fruit you have, and bring it to a simmer with the jars to sterilize them.

To prep the fruit:

The amount of loquats it takes to make a pint of jam varies, but when all is said and done, allow 3/4-1 cup of sugar to every cup of cut up fruit.

Wash the loquats very well in cold water, then remembering what cut apples do in open air, you want to have a bowl of lemon water handy to keep the flesh from turning brown. Using a pairing knife, cut the loquats in half lengthwise, running the knife around like you would an avocado. The seeds are very large, and POISONOUS. Do not allow any of the seeds to remain with the flesh. They contain arsenic, so you really don't want to cook them in the jam. I'm honestly not sure how much is in there, but like apple seeds and other fruit seeds containing toxins, it's better to not eat them.

Once you have the fruit cleaned and pitted, measure it into a stock pot and add sugar for the amount of fruit you measured, also add 2 tbs of lemon juice per quart of fruit - this will help the loquat butter thicken and bring the acid level of the loquats up a bit. Work in smaller batches, only a quart or two of fruit at a time because it will be easier to get the loquat butter thicken up.

Stir everything together well over high heat until the fruit softens a bit, turn off the head and you have two choices: you can run it through the blender to puree the chucks a bit, or use a stick blender. If you choose the blender method, put the lid on all the way!! This stuff is like molton lava, and unless you work again, in even smaller batches in the blender and lid it tightly, it will spray your kitchen and you.

Once the butter is pureed mostly, bring it back up to high heat at a rapid boil until it is thick enough that it mounds up on a spoon. Again - think super thick spreadable apple sauce and you have a fruit butter.

After you have a loquat butter you are happy with, place it in the jars, leaving 1/4 inch between the top of the jar and the loquat butter. Heat the canning lids for 30 seconds to soften the sealing compound(don't boil them!!), wipe the top of each jar carefully to ensure that there is no fruit between the jar and the lid. Place the lid on the jar and screw the ring down finger-tight. Don't over do this part because you want the air to be able to escape from the jar, creating a vacuum. This is part of what keeps the fruit butter preserved!

Carefully place the jars in the water bath, and bring it up to a boil. Process at a full rolling boil for 15 minutes, and the time starts when the water comes to a full rolling boil, not a moment before. After the processing time is up, turn off the heat and allow the water to cool just a little before taking out the jars. Place them on a towel on the counter, no thermal shock is wanted here - it's a mess!

Leave your jars of loquat butter on the counter overnight - do not mess with them until then because you can disturb the seal that is forming. To check the seal, remove the ring and lift up with your finger - if it doesn't come off, and the center of the lid has sunk down a little then you have a good seal.


Friday, December 5, 2008

We have found all sorts of recipes for the fruits and vegetables that we grow. After having a garden every year, and fruit trees in the yard,we've found that when we start growing an item, there is almost always too much to eat!

Rather than letting all that good stuff go to waste, we ate what we could, and canning the rest. I started with the Ball Blue Book of Canning, that book is worth every penny! It has time-tested recipes for many of the items you'll process..

Notice, I said "many". Not all! We have had to improvise, seek out the knowledge and adapt things to what we needed. First, there were the loquats that came home - you'd be amazed at how many people have trees that they've never used the fruit from!

In the next post, how to use those loquats, kumquats and oranges that are coming ripe now.