Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Skin & Bones

when we came home from the park last saturday, the kids were wiped out. it was really hot outside so i gave them sour cherry rocket-shaped ice pops to cool them off while i got dinner on the table.  i had already roasted chicken thighs earlier that day meaning dinner was only a few side dishes and a salad away while my husband and i chatted and listened to music in the kitchen together (heaven). we started putting the food out on the table. the kids had finished their pops and were playing nicely with toys when we noticed that it had gotten very quiet in the living room/tv room/bedroom/family meal room, etc. my husband motioned for me to check out what was happening at the table: our kids were busy devouring the chicken. 

henry goes right for his favorite food, what he calls the "skeel."  that's skin to you and me.  he systematically eats all of the crispy skeel off the chicken and then moves on to the meat. sylvia loves skin too but really concentrates on the bones, getting all of the meat off and even eating the cartilage, marrow and connective tissue.  i love this. from the time they were able to eat solids i put bones from beautifully pastured animals in their hands and encouraged them to gnaw away.  at the ripe old ages of 3 and 6 years they are expert bone handlers and love all things skin and bone related.

some of you might be asking yourselves at this point....why is emily so into skin and bones? why is it so important for her kids to like chomping on this stuff?  skin and bones are economical, nutrient dense, delicious foods that we all need for proper healthy development and growth.  they impart vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are sorely lacking from our diets because unfortunately we have forgotten how vital and energizing they are. as a culinary society we have classified them as "fattening & inconvenient."  instead we have traded natural skin & fat for gluten rich breading and get most of our soups from cans and boxes (which are hardly ever from good clean pastured meat sources).  my other delight with skin and bones is that my family knows how to handle food in its whole state, understands where cuts of meat come from (chickens don't have fingers, remember?) and is not "put off" or grossed out by anything that tastes delicious. we get our hands dirty at the table and that is FUN!

evidence that we have lost the fine art of utilizing skin and bones in our diet is the rise of joint and bone diseases in our country.  we must feed like with like.  in her book Deep Nutrition, Dr. Catherine Shanahan divides the foundation of world cuisine into four pillars citing meat on the bone as number 1.  "when cooking meat, the more everything stays together - fat, bone, marrow, skin other connective tissue - the better." i agree. one of the things we used to say in the professional kitchen is "the flavor is in the fat."  we would say that every time a customer would order a piece of meat or fish (especially chicken) "no oil, no butter, no skin." we would say "NO FLAVOR!"  beside there being no flavor, there were far less nutrients as well as we have discussed before -- fat soluble vitamins need an activator to make them available to the body.  

we have a saturday lunch tradition at my house. we roast a belle rouge chicken from violet hills farms. it is one of the best tasting chickens you'll ever have. when we have finished lunch we put all of the bones in a bag and store in the freezer until we have enough for the stock pot.  even if the kids take a roasted chicken leg or thigh to school for lunch (and my husband to work) they always bring home the bones for the stock pot.  they know that those bones give us soup and broth to sip with our meals (my kids used to sip broth out of their sippy cups as much as they sipped milk). broth not only packs a nutrient dense punch but also aids in healing the gut lining for those who are dealing with "leaky gut" issues - allergies, eczema, etc.  who can honestly say that they don't feel better after a rich pot of homemade chicken soup?

i tend to alternate my stock every week rotating chicken, beef and fish (fish always depends on what racks and heads i can get from my fisherman on wednesdays at the market). most times you can get racks and heads for free if you ask! fish broth with coconut milk, cilantro, red pepper and green onion is a real treat in this house.  the meat that falls off the bone is amazing in fish cakes.  stock in the freezer keeps for a few months (if it lasts that long) and will insure a quick soup when needed or extra flavor to a sauce. adding bone broths to grains and pastas will certainly improve their nutritional and flavor profiles. finish with butter (good healthy fat) and my goodness you have created a thing of beauty! i generally soak my bones in cold filtered water and raw vinegar for an hour before i turn on the flame, skim off the scum and then add aromatics.  I let my beef stock go for 30 hours, my chicken for 20 and my fish from 8 - 12 hours. the house smells divine. my yield is 7 quarts. A quart of good soup is at least $10 and my ingredients are never more than $20 for the lot. That's good math! we never boil we only simmer.  the fat we get off the top of the stock is great for cooking! (we had scrambled pastured eggs cooked in beef tallow just this morning). oh! and by the way, bones are sexy...did you know that? after we remove our bones from the pot my husband and i have a great time searching for marrow, bits of meat, succulent fat and connective tissue to eat together. odd bits of concentrated flavor and love. the joy we get from harvesting these buried nutritional treasures always brings us a little bit closer (wink, wink). 

skin and bones also come into play with fish.  when buying canned salmon and sardines (and i hope you do) please buy the ones with skin and bones intact. the bones are small enough that you don't even realize that you are eating them and the skin provides a flavor and mouth feel that is brilliant.  these extra nutrients (calcium, vitamin c and much more) provide you and your family with the nutrients we all need to flourish.

i could go on about how eating marrow and all of it's yummy rich goodness gives me amazing energy or how lamb chops with their succulent fat make me happier than almost any other food.  i see how my family acts after a good meal of meat on the bone with everything intact and i just want to hug the world for making it so simple and delicious.  why is thanksgiving such a lovely holiday? i say it's the turkey and all it's skin and bones that bring that warm, loving family glow to the table.  "skin and bones" is an expression that conjures a very negative image of a sickly, hungry, unhealthy person and certainly not how we should strive to look. i propose we change that image and think of skin and bones as  delicious, nourishing, healthy traditional foods that we need to reacquaint ourselves with immediately! skin and bones from well raised animals are what i recommend serving to bring your healthy, beautiful Family2Table.