About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, August 21, 2006
In Praise of Older Women
I had a little affair with an older woman over the weekend.

Sometimes one becomes a bit bored with a plump breast and well rounded thigh and longs for something with a bit of depth and character. Someone who rewards you well for the extra care and attention you lavish upon her. Whose charms aren't reliant on young tender flesh that is oh so common, but upon an ability to give herself all to you if you know how to treat her right, with love, tenderness and patience. An older women will not surrender to you in a shorter courtship, that someone younger would fall for in as little as half an hour. You have to want an older women and treat her right, as Aretha Franklin would say, with RESPECT.

It was my wife that started the whole thing. We had my kids coming over to celebrate one of their birthdays. The birthday boy himself is very fond of one of her soups called krupnik, which is essentially a barley soup that relies on good homemade chicken stock for its character. My wife had been telling me that in Poland, they like to use an old boiling fowl to make the stock with, but here in Australia she has to settle for chicken bones and pieces from young chickens. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but D was hanging out for a taste from her memory.

Well, we were at the Queen Victoria Market on Saturday morning, Melbourne's premier food market and I knew exactly where to get hold of an older bird for her soup. We battled our way through the mid morning crowd to the specialist chicken shops and purchased a 1.5 kg bird for $5. To someone who pays around $18 for a free range bird of the same size that seemed like a complete steal. But still it would be too much to pay if you didn't know how to look after it.

As a chicken ages, its flesh becomes increasingly tough, especially the active leg muscles. But what it loses in tenderness it gains in flavour. An older bird acquires a gelatinous quality that is only fully released by long, slow braising or poaching. The bird itself retains flavour and the liquid in which it was cooked will carry the very essence of the chicken. Once it was very common to cook with old birds as they first had to carry out egg laying duties, but in modern times we breed birds specifically for their tender meat, which cannot survive a long slow cook without turning stringy and losing all its flavour. But because all we can get nowadays is chicken bred to be tender, many of us look with disdain upon boiling fowl, as evidenced by a story from Renaudet, a French chef and author.

One of my friends, a French senator, once declared, in front of the cook of a mutual acquaintance, that an old hen was good for nothing except enriching the stock of a pot au feu. To show him how wrong he was, Mlle. Marthe, the cook, created the following dish and our gourmet freely admitted his error.

The dish was called Senator's Braised Hen and was essentially an old hen slowly braised with potatoes, bacon and onions for about three hours. With our chicken, we slowly poached it for three hours also; depending on the age and condition of the bird it can take from two to four hours to cook. After we had poached the bird for the requisite time we removed it from the stockpot and left it to cool for another dish, which turned out to be a pasta frittata. Our daughter M spotted it and ripped a drumstick from it and as she ate it said how tasty it was, then ripped the other leg and devoured that too. Of course I snuck a taste of the meat and it was completely different to a young bird. Even after three hours of cooking it had good texture, plenty of flavour and my hands almost stuck to the meat it was so sticky. All my children commented on how tasty the soup was; it was just the stock seasoned and served with noodles, but it had such a depth of flavour and a real stickiness to it that you can only get from a good homemade veal stock.

Maybe we should all spend a bit of time with an older woman, her charms are all there for the taking.
  posted at 7:36 am

At 1:02 pm, Anonymous Tanna said...

What terrific writing! Loved it.
So now I need an old woman - oops I mean old chicken.

At 11:22 pm, Blogger Shell said...

OMG how brilliantly insightful and wonderful this writing is! You had me well c/hooked from the start *grin

Would a chunk of reincarnated chicken that has been in the freezer for a very, very long time count?? Thank you for such a brilliant read! You sooo should publish this blog, as in a book, y'know?

At 6:32 am, Blogger gigi said...

Hear hear! I agree; it really is terrific writing.

All my chickens have been young, fatty and most...unchickeny lately. On top of that, I have a freezer full of innards because my mother taught me never to throw them out, though I've no idea what to do with them and no one in the house will eat organ meat anyway. So it just looks like a particularly unappetizing episode of CSI in there... :)

At 8:07 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, thank you!

Hi shell, thank you! Your chicken in the freezer reminded me of a man who had a talking parrot that used to swear like a trooper. Of course the man was offended by his parrot as was everyone who came to his house until one day he could take no more.

"If you don't stop swearing and cursing I will do something terrible to you."

"F... off." said the parrot.

The man was so enraged that he grabbed the parrot and threw him into the freezer. After a minute the desperate parrot could be heard saying,

"Please, please let me out, I promise I will never swear again. I will do anything you ask of me."

The man let the parrot out and it flew to its perch and said,

"You will never have to worry about me again,I will be so good from now on, but tell me one thing, what did the chicken do?"

Hi gigi, thank you! There are things you can do with your innards and not waste them. Everything except livers you can put into the stockpot with a few root vegetables and simmer for 1 or 2 hours to make the base for a soup. Or you can chop everything fine including livers and use it to make a stuffing.

At 8:40 am, Blogger Reb said...

We certainly should consider other forms of the humble chook for variety and flavour. I had a slow roasted young cockerel (galetto) at Lorenza de Medici's restaurant in Coltibuono and it was like nothing I'd tasted before. Such a strong gamey note and not at all like what we know as 'chicken'. Hopefully we'll get more variety here eventually!

At 12:00 am, Blogger pentacular said...

Neil, your blogs are getting even more interesting. How many people will it take to say 'book' before we get one. Gregory

At 9:20 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi reb, I think it's coming slowly, but at a price. Interesting about the cockerel, a few years ago I was given a taste comparision between ducks, a hen and a drake. The hen was as tender as all get out, but the drake had all the flavour.

Hi pentacular, thanks for that; just so long as it's not a traffic cop saying "You're booked!"

At 10:26 pm, Blogger Ruth said...

Great read - thanks for my morning chuckle!

At 8:05 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi ruth, that's me...the comedy channel!!!


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