America's Frugal Food Roots With Chris Kimball

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Chris Kimball

Turn back the clock in your kitchen to cut back on your spending, advises Kimball of America's Test Kitchen. William B.Plowman for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption William B.Plowman for NPR

Did you suffer American food overload during the holiday weekend? Unless you had a retro-themed celebration, you probably didn't have any of the truly traditional American foods that defined the nation's early days.

At one time, the American kitchen was by definition a frugal kitchen. Because ingredients were so expensive in the 1800s, a whole industry formed around "taking large pieces of food, breaking them down, preserving them and reusing them; and the food was really good," Chris Kimball, host of America's Test Kitchen, tells NPR's Renee Montagne.

Kimball took her on a journey to revisit standards like oatmeal, for which he advises toasting steel cut oats before boiling them.

And in the meat department, Kimball says meatloaf became a "dumping ground" for commercial products like powdered onion soup and ketchup. He says the key is veal because of its natural gelatin. Kimball also reminds Montagne that in the old days, there was no ground meat because of inconsistent refrigeration and the lack of grinders — that's why meatloaf was made with leftover meat.

Below, Kimball updates Kentucky Burgoo, which once would have been loaded with squirrel and mutton. Kimball's dish is bursting with lima beans and corn, in addition to chicken and lamb chop.

A key ingredient of dishes past was cornmeal. "It was the ingredient for about 200 years in America," says Kimball. The history of food in the 19th century, he says, "is going from the coarser, healthier foods to more refined foods, because more refined meant for most people more expensive, more desirable."

Indian Pudding

This recipe has not been tested by NPR.

Indian Pudding i

This Indian Pudding recipe calls for simple and inexpensive ingredients like cornmeal, molasses, maple syrup and milk. Carl Tremblay hide caption

itoggle caption Carl Tremblay
Indian Pudding

This Indian Pudding recipe calls for simple and inexpensive ingredients like cornmeal, molasses, maple syrup and milk.

Carl Tremblay

The pudding may be flavored with a couple of teaspoons of rum and/or maple syrup and served with whipped cream, or even vanilla ice cream.

serves 6

  • 4 cups whole milk plus 2 additional tablespoons
  • 1/2 cup mild molasses
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 275 degrees. Lightly coat a 2-quart casserole dish or 9-inch soufflé dish with vegetable oil spray. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with a dish towel. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

2. Bring 4 cups of milk, the molasses, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened and the whisk leaves trails when stirred, about 15 minutes.

3. Whisk the eggs, cornstarch, and remaining 2 tablespoons of milk together until smooth, then slowly whisk into the cornmeal mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, until large bubbles rise to the surface, 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the prepared dish, wrap tightly in foil, and set inside the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven and carefully pour the boiling water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake until the pudding is no longer runny and has gently set, about 2 hours.

5. Remove the baking dish from the water bath and let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before serving.

To Make Ahead

The baked pudding can be cooled at room temperature for up to 3 hours before serving.

Kentucky Burgoo

This recipe has not been tested by NPR.

Kentucky Burgoo i
Kentucky Burgoo

If you can't find the lamb shoulder chops, substitute 1 1/2 pounds of lamb stew meat or beef chuck stew meat.

Serves 6 to 8

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
  • 6 lamb shoulder chops (6 to 8 ounces each), about 1/2 inch thick (see note)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn
  • 1 1/2 cups baby lima beans
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1. BROWN MEAT pat chicken and lamb dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high until just smoking. Brown chicken, about 5 minutes per side; transfer to plate. Pour off fat from pan and reserve. (You should have about 3 tablespoons fat; if you have less, supplement with vegetable oil.) Add 1 tablespoon reserved fat to Dutch oven and heat until just smoking. Brown half of chops, about 5 minutes per side; transfer to place. Repeat with additional 1 tablespoon fat and remaining chops.

2. COOK AROMATICS Add remaining fat and onions to now-empty pot and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and flour and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in broth, tomatoes, and Worcestershire, scraping up any browned bits with wooden spoon. Return chicken and lamb to pot and bring to boil.

3. SIMMER MEATS Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until chicken is tender, about 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate. When cool enough to handle, pull chicken into bite-sized pieces and reserve in refrigerator; discard bones and skin. Continue to simmer stew until lamb is tender, about 40 minutes longer. Transfer lamb to plate. When cool enough to handle, pull lamb into bite-sized pieces and reserve in refrigerator; discard bones.

4. ADD VEGETABLES Add potatoes to pot and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Add corn, lima beans, reserved chicken, and reserved lamb and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Season with salt. Skim fat, if necessary. Serve.

French Chicken In A Pot

This recipe has not been tested by NPR.

If using a 3 1/2- 4 1/2-pound chicken, cooking time is about an hour. A 5- to 6-pound bird will take close to 2 hours. Recipe is designed to work with a 5- to 8-quart Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. If using a 5-quart pot, do not cook a chicken larger than 5 pounds. If using a kosher chicken, reduce kosher salt to 1 teaspoon (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt). Season jus with about 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice for every 1/4 cup.

Serves 4

  • 1 whole roasting chicken (4 1/2 to 5 pounds), giblets removed and discarded, wings tucked under back (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped medium (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 small stalk celery, chopped medium (about 1/4 cup)
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 medium sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add chicken breast-side down; scatter onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary (if using) around chicken. Cook until breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon inserted into cavity of bird, flip chicken breast-side up and cook until chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove Dutch oven from heat; place large sheet of foil over pot and cover tightly with lid. Transfer pot to oven and cook until instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees when inserted in thickest part of breast and 175 degrees in thickst part of thigh, 80 to 110 minutes.

2. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent with foil, and rest 20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain chicken juices from pot through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator, pressing on solids to extract liquid; discard solids (you should have about 3/4 cup juices). Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then pour into saucepan and set over low heat. Carve chicken, adding any accumulated juices.



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