Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking Stock

   There’s nothing quite like the smell of homemade chicken stock simmering away on the stove, filling my apartment with a warm and cozy aroma like a quilted blanket wrapping around my soul.  It’s always a good idea to have stock on hand, especially for making soups and sauces, and I try to avoid the canned stuff if I can help it.  So every few months I make a big batch in my extra large stock pot and freeze it in quart containers.
Save the chicken fat you skim off the top and use it to make matzoh balls.
   Of course there is an art and science to making “perfect” stock, but so much of what I do in the kitchen is regimented that when it comes to making stock, I like to keep it simple.  I’m not that concerned with roasting bones, getting the exact ratio for the mirepoix right, or tying my herbs in a neat little bouquet garni.  For me, there are only three rules to making stock: throw some stuff into a big pot and cover with water, simmer for several hours, and strain.  So maybe it wouldn’t earn me an A in Stocks class, but I’ve always been more than happy with the results.

  This recipe is not even really a recipe because I usually just throw in what I’ve got- a lot of grocery stores will sell a package of stock veg, which makes it even easier.  It is a good idea to peel the vegetables as the skins can give a bitter flavor to your stock.

Chicken Stock
1 whole small chicken, 1-2 pounds
3 pieces bacon, cut into strips
onion, carrots, celery, parsnip, turnip, garlic- diced
parsley, dill, bay leaf
6-7 quarts cold water, enough to fill the pot

1.  In a deep, heavy-bottomed pot, heat some oil on medium and fry bacon for a few minutes.  Throw in the mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) and other veg and a bit of salt and sweat until they begin to soften.

2.  Cut up the whole chicken and leave the skin on, you can also buy chicken parts, but buying a whole chicken is less expensive and results in a more flavorful stock.  For a video on how to cup up a whole chicken, check out this video.

3.  Turn the heat up to high, add the chicken to the pot and brown the skin a bit if you can.  Pour cold water over until the pot is almost full.  A whole chicken will flavor quite a lot of stock, but if you don’t have a very large pot it’s ok, the stock will just be more intense. 
4.  Add bay leaf, chopped parsley and dill, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook your stock for 3+ hours.  Give the pot a stir every so often and skim any scum off the top.

5.  Remove the chicken pieces from the pot and leave them on a plate to cool so you can pull the meat from the bones.  You can add this meat back to strained stock later to make chicken soup, or use it for chicken salad or tacos or whatever.  Strain the stock through a very fine mesh strainer or chinois into a clean container and leave it in the fridge overnight. 


6.  A layer of fat will rise to the top and coagulate so you can easily skim it off the next morning. 

   You can use the stock right away or store in air-tight containers in the freezer.  I also freeze some in ice-cube trays and store the cubes in a freezer bag- these are great for throwing a bit of stock wherever you might need it. 

  Taste the stock and note the balance of flavors- maybe in your next batch you want a little more celery flavor, or you don't like what the parsnip does to the finished product.  Make a note for yourself about what you want to adjust for the next time, and keep experimenting!  Soon you'll be on your way to having your own signature stock recipe unique to your own tastes.

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