Wednesday, November 09, 2005

chicken - the good, the bad and the downright disgusting

(So, the first part of this post may make you hungry, whereas the last part will probably make you gag, so I don't really have any recommendations on whether to read it before or after eating. The choice is yours.)


When we were on holiday in Vancouver many years ago, my mother gave me this stoneware cooking pot as a gift.

I think it's so pretty - it was handmade in a pottery studio in B.C. by a couple of potters who will make you just about anything in any colour you desire. They run a great business and Mum has crossed their palms with silver many, many times.
The design is based on the steaming pots created in the Yunnan province in China and can apparently be used in a variety of ways. Once upon a time I even had a little photocopied recipe/instruction booklet that came with the pot, but don't ask me where that disappeared to.

The hollow funnel in the middle of the pot allows the steam to rise and cook food very gently without it being exposed to direct heat. I have to admit that the only thing I've used the pot for so far is cooking vegetables, but the other day I got the urge to try something new and turned to the internet for ideas. Much to my surprise, there weren't very many, but I did manage to come up with a recipe (OK, it was really a couple of recipes that I combined to suit my needs) that turned out very well - chicken soup Chinese style. And we're using the term 'Chinese' very loosely here because I have no idea how authentic this soup would be.

Chinese Chicken Soup

1 whole chicken, about 3 - 3 1/2 lbs, washed and cut in 8-10 pieces
8 Chinese or Japanese shiitake mushrooms, rinsed and soaked in 1 cup hot water for 20 -30 minutes, or until soft (reserve soaking liquid)
5 green onions cut into two inch lengths
5 thin slices fresh ginger, peeled
1 cup chicken broth
1 T soy sauce (or to taste)

Squeeze soaked mushrooms dry and cut into quarters, discarding tough stems. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanche chicken pieces for one minute. Remove with slotted spoon and place in Yunnan cooker, sprinkling mushrooms, scallions and ginger over top of chicken. Combine strained mushroom soaking liquid, chicken broth, 1 cup water and soy sauce and poor over chicken. Cover pot tightly and place over a large saucepan of boiling water. Steam for about 2 hours at medium heat, replenishing water when necessary.

When chicken is tender, remove it from the pot and discard the skin along with ginger. At this point you can either return the chicken to the soup or serve it separately with a dipping sauce. Because the soup is steamed or 'double boiled', it's clearer and has a much fresher flavour than a soup that been cooked in pot directly on the stove.

This was really, really good. I didn't want to use a whole chicken, so I used some cut up legs and a couple of breasts. Next time I think I'm going to use bone-in thighs only, because they tasted the best and were the most tender. The chicken isn't very pretty to look at , but the flavour is wonderful, and the soup will make you sing. Sliced Chinese cabbage and a bit of rice wine can be added to the dish before cooking if desired. You can also do this by placing a regular pot on a rack in a larger pot of boiling water and cooking on top of the stove in the same way.


So, speaking of chicken, here's the disgusting part. Along with mad cow disease, swine fever and bird flu, Germany has recently had its share of other Fleischskandale - meat scandals that you might not have heard about because they try to keep a lid on these things.

Earlier this year it was discovered that a large, well-known supermarket had been repackaging meat, especially ground meat, which is so succeptable to spoilage, and selling it way past its use by date. Uck.

Then there was the thing a month or so ago where Fleischabfällen - literally 'garbage meat' as in "not fit for human consumption" was re-labeled and sold to various companies who unknowingly used as a filling for ravioli, tortellini and the like. Eeew.

And this week it's all about the chickens. Some crazy company has reportedly been repeatedly freezing and thawing close-to-rotten chicken parts and attempting to sell them as fresh meat with a huge health danger to the consumer. Tests showed that much of the poultry that was confiscated and tested was contaminated. Mmm...salmonella anyone? The factory doing this has now been shut down, but a lot of chicken had already gone into circulation, mostly in Berlin and Saxony, and was used for making liverwurst and Putendöner - a turkey/chicken sandwich commonly served at Turkish snack bars. Gahhh.

I saw a guy being interviewed on TV who said that hygeine standards and food inspection rules for meat processing plants haven't changed in Germany since the 50's and that this kind of thing is rampant. Living here really freaks me out sometimes. You just NEVER know what you're eating and no one seems to care as long as someone makes a buck. Horrifying if you ask me.


At November 09, 2005 6:04 p.m., Blogger Sparky said...

Now I'm hungry :).

As an aside:
Can you do me a favor and jump over to Jen's Blog and give her a quick opinion on the green background? Is it cool or toxic? Should it be "softened"? How is it on the eyes for reading?

At November 09, 2005 6:40 p.m., Blogger Homer said...

Ergh. Ergh. The chicken that is, not the new "Jen's Blog" background.

I watched "How It's Made" last night and they filmed a factory making pre-cooked, frozen chicken wings. Put me off them for life.

At November 09, 2005 8:19 p.m., Anonymous mar said...

It is disgusting. Now, if this is happening in the "first world" just imagine the situation elsewhere...

At November 09, 2005 8:50 p.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

I'm in love with those pots! I can't believe people would even think of doing that. I do hope everyone involved really gets fined hard for doing such a bad thing to consumers.

At November 09, 2005 9:01 p.m., Blogger melusina said...

The pot is beautiful, the bad meat story is not.

There have been similar scandals in Greece over the past few months. I remember before I moved here some similar things happening in America - a couple of Kroger supermarkets (a big chain supermarket), I don't remember where, had been caught repackaging ground beef that was old, old, OLD. I have a feeling this sort of thing is WAY more common than we think.

At November 09, 2005 10:55 p.m., Anonymous Haddock said...

Here in Hessen there have been a few dodgy meat scandals as well....I think a lot of places are probably iffy including resturants (I can't spell).
Almost getting to the point where you have to go and kill the animal yourself......just like in the old days! :)

At November 10, 2005 1:30 a.m., Anonymous lillian said...

If they relable meat in germany, I wonder what they do here in Thailand???? arrrrgggghhh change the topic. :-)

At November 10, 2005 7:45 a.m., Blogger Karen said...

The meat scandals have certainly been very disgusting. Only safe option is to buy at your local Metzger, that, however, is an expensive option.

I love that blue pot!

At November 10, 2005 8:17 a.m., Anonymous Belinda said...

I saw that reportage the other day and thought "well crap, as if I needed yet one more thing to prevent me getting chicken".

I go to a privately owned butcher for my meat. He's my "in-laws" neighbour so I've seen how he lives and trust that he's totally clean.

The one thing I've noticed about butchers at supermarkets (eg at the Edeka) is that they don't wear gloves.

Like, I ordered raw meat once and then some sandwhich meat. The lady picked up the raw meat with her bare hands and then grabbed some cooked schinken.

I was like...umm lady, wash your hands first and THEN serve me.

:| yucky

At November 10, 2005 8:29 a.m., Blogger hippo_pepperpot said...

neat blue pot :o)

bummer about the meat.....

At November 10, 2005 10:02 a.m., Anonymous JCS said...

Since the German people demand very cheap food these days, the profit margins in this country are much lower than in other places (UK, US etc.). Needless to say, this puts a lot of pressure on the producers and several have resorted to criminal ways in order to make a buck.
There are quite a few ways to minimise the risk of falling prey to these disgusting practices. As mentioned before, the local butcher is one choice. Butchers of the "Neuland" chain are selling meat from artgerechte Tierhaltung. They are more expensive, but I have never been disappointed so far in the last two years.
Scandals involving food are not more common in Germany than in other places. Several years ago Jack In The Box got into severe problems after it was found out that incomplete cooking left too many bacteria in their products. Many more cases have been documented in the fast food chains of North America (See Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation".). The shameful thing here in Germany is that in almost all cases violators are not named, unless it is a major scandal. If your local restaurant has mice all over the kitchen, you will never hear about it because the law protects the identities of the businesses involved. A recent initiative to change these regulations was blocked in the Bundesrat by the CDU/CSU.

At November 10, 2005 11:34 a.m., Blogger christina said...

Well that's exactly it, JCS - I'm certainly not denying that this type of thing happens in other countries and I've heard about the fast food problems in the US. But what bothers me is what happens (or doesn't happen) to the guilty parties in Germany. There was an article in our paper this morning discussing how even if it is a major public scandal and companies get named, those to blame aren't really punished at all, often being given only a warning or a fine and then being allowed to take up production again. That doesn't seem right.

A friend of friends of ours is a restaurant food safety inspector in Lower Saxony and he said you wouldn't BELIEVE what goes on in some places. He's VERY careful where he eats.

At November 10, 2005 1:31 p.m., Blogger swissmiss said...

On behalf of Switzerland, I apologize to Germany, for I believe a lot of that Abfallfleisch came from Switzeraland. Yuk! Sorry!

Now that we've moved, we still drive back to Small Village to go to the butcher. Husband's family has been going to that family butcher for about 30 years.

At November 10, 2005 7:55 p.m., Anonymous JCS said...

One more thing: After returning to Germany it occurred to me how careless many shop employees are around here. Many of them touch money, push back their hair or scratch their face - and then hand you your loaf of bread, piece of meat etc. Every time this happens I cringe. Why can't they use disposable gloves or tongs? Is this too much to ask? Even the most unmotivated employees in North America will not grab a bunch of coins with their bare hands and then proceed to prepare a sandwich without gloves. - German microbiologist Robert Koch is probably rotating in his grave right now.

Best regards,

PS: I hope that many German food inspectors will leak information to the press in the near future. There's nothing like plain public pressure when it comes to health code violations.

At November 23, 2005 2:14 a.m., Anonymous Marco said...

Ja ... I especially like it when the staff sneeze into the plastic gloves they are wearing for my protection (??? or is it to keep their hands clean ???) and then proceed to fill my order. And the indignation when I decide to cancel the order.

By the way, in more than one local metzger I have seen the staff weigh raw beef on the scale that is then used to weigh out the aufschnitt, and far too often without something between the food and the scale. But at least they were wearing plastic gloves, albeit the same ones that were used to count out the last customer's change.

I'm sure this happens in the US, but not nearly as often as I have seen it here (Is it better health-inspection protocols or better trial lawywers ???).


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