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How You're Not Using the Best Part of a Sunday Roast

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Sunday Dinners comes to us from our own chef/photojournalist/farmer/father figure Tom Hirschfeld, featuring his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.

Today: The best part of a roast chicken (or beef or pork) dinner? Meet pan juice jelly -- and 5 ways to use it.

We all know gravy or pan sauce in large quantities might be good for our soul, but it isn't so good for our heart health. After all, we are doing nothing more than adding flour or cornstarch to the fat in the bottom of a roasting or sauté pan to thicken it and adding back some stock, wine, or cream for volume.

So we have deemed it less healthy, which to me means it is an occasional treat, and as such we reserve serving gravy for holiday feasts or occasional celebrations, and rightly so.

So why then when I look into the chicken-less roasting pan that held tonight's dinner only a short time ago and I see those beautiful glistening juices that are on the edge of coagulating do I feel like I am throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Don't get me wrong -- I am no health nut. In fact, I have this beautiful physique that could make me the poster child for a Bittman campaign on obesity. I am sure it goes back to my "waste not, want not" way of thinking. Nevertheless, all this made me think. 

When I make my own stock, I always cool it down, put it in the fridge and then the next day I lift the disc of fat off the top. I know the stock is pretty fat-free, although I haven't calculated it and I have no idea how to do so, but it has to be pretty lean. I also know it has very little salt because I didn't add any.

So looking at it in this light, I started refrigerating the remains in the roasting pan and, the next day, I remove all the fat cap and what is left is the reduced, intensely rich jelly. I use a rubber spatula and scrape all the jelly up and into a small Ball jar.

I have already made a plan for its use -- did so before I even roasted the pork, beef or chicken -- so I know when I store it in the fridge it will be used up in a day or two. I could freeze it, but I don't like to collect things like this and my motto is use it or lose it.

The jelly is infinitely better than bouillon cubes or stock base and can be used in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I like the jelly to have lots of debris (meat bits and spices) and other times I don't, but it is easy to heat and strain if you need to, just before you want to use it. While you don’t have to, I often try to keep in mind the flavors of what I roasted with the flavors of what I am going to make with the pan juices, just to make sure they coincide.

Pan juice possibilities:

  • Of course it is always good to use the pan juices in soups. Added to the broth, it can give a flat soup the kick it needs.
  • Pasta or noodles of all kinds.
  • For chicken pan juices: Make a simple fresh lemon juice and olive oil dressing with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper, take a couple big handfuls of baby Bibb lettuces, and toss them with the dressing. Just before serving, heat the pan juices and drizzle over the salad for a “healthier” wilted salad.
  • For beef: Grits and Debris. Make a bowl of grits, pour on the warm pan juices, and top with a fried egg.
  • For pork: Ramen noodles.

Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon with Spaghetti

Serves 4

Extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cups chicken stock
2 to 3 tablespoons defatted pan juices from roasting chicken
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
12 or 16 ounces box spaghetti
1/2 to 2/3 cup black olives, I like California black olives for this
1 1/2 cup chicken, cooked
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
Parmesan cheese

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld 

Tags: Sunday Dinners, Tom Hirschfeld, chicken, roast chicken, pasta, olives, lemon zest, quick, pan juices

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