secret weapons

It is always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve, and these are two that have come in handy lately that I thought I would share.


Every winter, my dad would take to swallowing whole cloves of raw garlic to keep himself from falling ill. The result, aside from undeniable heartiness, was a lingering, unmistakable smell. I knew it from the subways of Beijing – the scent of garlic effusing from the body from every pore.

Later, in Harbin, Ali and I used to go to a meat restaurant where they would ask us if we wanted garlic with our meal, and in response to our enthusiastic nods they would toss a couple of heads of garlic on the table, to be peeled and nibbled raw with our food. That’s how we discovered that garlicky smelling people are not a problem if you are garlicky smelling yourself.

Still, although raw garlic is great for fending off the winter bugs, it’s not always what you want on the table. Time was, our go-to solution to this problem was garlic yogurt. Garlic yogurt is a regular feature at meals in Turkey, particularly with certain dishes such as manti (little dumplings) or vine leaves stuffed with meat. Ali used to eat it all the time when he was on his own in the garden – in those days, garlic yogurt on pasta was a meal as far as he was concerned. It is a wonderful addition to a meal — I love it with curries, in particular. It is the simplest thing to make — just add a crushed clove to a small bowl of plain yogurt and maybe throw in a pinch of salt too. Mix it up and you’ve got sauce.

Then we gave up dairy when we adopted a paleo diet. To be honest, it would have been a whole lot harder for me to swallow a dairy-free diet if I had found a reliable source of raw milk or had a cow of my own. Since I had neither, it was pretty easy to walk away from dairy products (I still get butter from local farms to make ghee, though). Garlic yogurt loomed, though. How were we going to replace that?? I found the answer the day I began making mayonnaise.

I has tried to make mayonnaise in the past and ended up with a runny mess, so I can’t really understand why it works for me now. (It probably helps that I don’t refrigerate my eggs these days because I am pretty sure I didn’t used to wait to bring them up to room temperature, which helps.) I do it two ways: with egg yolks only and with the whole egg. Both of them work great, though I usually go the whole egg route because I dislike having orphaned egg whites in the kitchen. I use a hand blender, and my secret weapon is…. a cola bottle with a hole in the cap (pictured in a previous post) that allows a thin drizzle of oil through. This makes it super easy to monitor how much oil is being added, a big help when you are doing this job on your own.

The other day, I made mayonnaise and it broke right at the end (translation – went from mayonnaise to a runny, oily mass) and I ran to the internet to learn how to fix it. The solution was easy — put an egg yolk in a bowl and whisk in the runny mayonnaise a little at a time. That fixed the problem and also left me thinking that if my hand blender went kaput, I could easily use a whisk to make mayo – there was mayonnaise before blenders, after all! At the end, I add a clove or two of crushed garlic and I’ve got garlic mayonnaise, the new hero of the table, keeping us smelly and healthy all winter long!

What I love about mayonnaise is that I get to use our eggs, and I know all about those eggs. I’ve got no nagging doubts about them at all, and it makes me feel mighty grateful to our hens.


Back to Harbin, I was out food shopping one day when I came across a packet labeled “Forest Chicken.” There was a frozen chicken inside, and on the pack there was a photo of little chickens roaming the forest. Ali and I laughed at the idea of feral forest chickens, and I got the chicken and cooked it in my tiny toaster oven.

It was tough as rubber bands.

That was the first inkling that I had of the difference between a bird that has a caged lifestyle and one that has been more athletic. I have noticed that the young birds that we eat from our flock are not so tough at all, but once in a while we have an older bird that has to go. A couple of weeks ago we had three such birds. After we’d cleaned them, I set aside the breasts to be brined and made into chicken nuggets for the boys. Then I took the drumsticks and the thighs and made confit with them. (The rest of the bird I used to make stock. I don’t know what it is about the wings of our birds, particularly the older ones, but I dislike eating them.)

Basically, confit is cooking meat in fat. Duck confit is made in duck fat — what a decadent thought! I did mine in olive oil. (The recipe I followed is here.) I love recipes that require upending a bottle of olive oil — it makes my heart pound. And you needn’t worry about that oil going to waste because you can use it for cooking afterwards, or to make more confit.

Because of course, once you make it and see how the meat, even of a tough old bird, is just falling off the bone, it is likely that you will want to make it again. I know I do! I put ours under the broiler before serving to crisp it up and the result was a really tasty dinner that everyone devoured. I am going to experiment a little with cooking times (I have read recipes where if you bring the oil up to the point where it is just bubbling and then put it in the oven, you don’t have to bake it for so long). And of course, any bird would benefit from this treatment, not just old ones.

So those are two new tricks that I learned this winter!


14 thoughts on “secret weapons

  1. andreamynard

    Love the way you made such good use of every bit of the chicken and great tips for mayo, I’m really fancying garlic mayonnaise, olives and good bread now.

  2. The mayo sounds great, I look at the recipe and is almost exactly like mine but I use grapeseed oil or avocado oil … lovely.. and those chickens, i have finally found someone to clean my old birds .. I should send them right now they are all fat from eating and sitting all winter! but I want them on grass first.. your chicken ideas are just perfect. c

    1. Ooh I love avocado oil! I don’t get it easily here, but I did make a batch of mayonnaise with it recently and it was delicious and a beautiful shade of pale green to boot. I usually use extra virgin olive oil even though people say not to (I like the flavor of it) since that’s the easiest thing to come by. Reading your comment I was reminded of how different our climates are – for us, winter is the time with the most grass because we get so much rain (and very little hard frost, let alone snow). It all dries up in summer and the chickens start eying my leafy greens! (I try to keep them to the hardy weeds and clover, but sometimes they outsmart me; they eat the scorpions in summer, though, so I can sacrifice the odd chard plant in exchange…)

      1. ah in that case maybe you should grow a batch of meat chickens in the winter late or early winter, drag their ark through the resting garden beds, they will till them and fertilise then for spring! Grown slowly and well it will only take about 8 /10 weeks. Scorpions! eek.. c

      2. That gives me loads to think about and it is all quite exciting! I like that idea a lot and I am already mentally constructing arks in my head… Yeah, mild weather is the pro, scorpions are the con of living here.

  3. I have never made mayonnaise nor have I heard of Confit. You make me want to try both! I certainly do have a few hens that would be good prepared like this. I’m getting kind of bored of stewing them.

    1. I know just what you mean! I used to just pressure cook them and it produces fine results, but sometimes you need a bit of a change. Confit feels like a special occasion! And mayonnaise, once you start making it, is a breeze and so much better than store bought (though without the long shelf life…).

    1. Confit is like a magic wand – it makes everything tender and then protects it in a blanket of oil. I am so glad you like the garlic — not ours, sadly, but it won’t be too long now. Maybe this time I will have finally planted enough to last all year…

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