16 January 2008

About that Chicken Stock

Without further ado, I bring you Chicken Stock 101. Okay well I am not sure I should be considered the authority on chicken stock, but I can tell you what I like. I think many people are convinced that making stock at home isn't worth the time or effort. Well, I am here to tell you that it is not hard to make and it is worth every ounce of effort.

I don't remember my mom not making her own stock. I specifically recall the mad-dash to get the bones and juices in a huge stockpot immediately after Thanksgiving dinner. We always ate early on holidays, and the aroma of bones simmering away in a stockpot still reminds me of a quiet holiday evening. Well, maybe not always quiet, but a holiday evening nonetheless. Honestly, I don't love the smell of stock simmering, so don't feel bad if you don't like it either. I think some people are comforted by it; I am just sort of overwhelmed by it.

First and foremost, you need to start with a chicken carcass. The more the merrier. If you have the space, and you like to do things in bulk, use a couple carcasses and a huge stockpot. Unfortunately, I do not have the space for gigantic stockpots, so I just make stock every time I have bones. Yep, absolutely, 100% every time. I don't think I have ever wasted chicken bones since living on my own! And if a girl in college can make time for chicken stock, well, then you have no excuse to use the canned stuff!

So this is the method:
Add chicken bones, drippings, skin, pieces, parts, etc. to large stockpot
Add left over aromatic pieces, peels, skins, etc. to the stockpot (onions, carrots, celery, parsnips)
Cover with cold water
Throw a couple peppercorns in if you feel like it
Bring to a boil, reduce to a very slow simmer, cover and ignore for a long time.

Seriously. That's it. You don't need to measure, you don't need to stir, you don't need to think. Usually I start this process in the evening and leave it at the very slowest of simmers on my stove until I get home from work the next day. Of course, proceed at your own risk- I suppose this does come with the risk of fire. If you think about it, you skim the ugly foamy stuff off the top of the stock, but if you don't think about it, it won't ruin anything.

So when I get home from work the following day (so the stock has had essentially 24 hours at the slightest of simmers), I set up a "sieving station". I let the stock cool for awhile and begin to ladle it into a very fine strainer set over another stockpot or pan. Periodically I need to discard the solids that accumulate in the strainer. Typically, I just dump this stuff into a nearby dish to cool before I throw it away. There are several recipes that say you should use cheesecloth in your strainer to catch every little bit of "impurity". Personally, I don't care - but if you do care, definitely use the cheesecloth! After all the solids have been sieved out, I put a lid on the pot and stick it in the fridge.

I leave this in the fridge for another 24 hours. This step allows all of the fat in the stock to rise to the surface and solidify (see below).As you can see in the picture, it is a fairly substantial layer of fat. As we all know, fat contains tons of flavor. I have saved this layer of fat before - I use a fork to lift the fat off the stock, and I put it in a small container and freeze for later use. Of course it is not purified the way that commercial schmaltz would be, and I don't know if this is recommended, but I have cooked with it and survived. I have only ever used it in very small amounts when a dish needed a bit of fattiness added to it (like refried beans).

If you don't want to save the fat, don't worry about it. Just lift it off with a fork while it is still cold and throw it away (see below).
After the fat has been removed, I put the pan back on the heat to further reduce the stock. This is based on your own preference, but I would rather freeze several small, condensed portions to save space. Basically by putting the stock back on the heat, you are evaporating more water and reducing the stock to have more flavor. So eventually you could make it thick enough that you have a stock base to use. I like freezing the stock in one cup containers, but it is really up to you. Just keep in mind that this stock will be very rich so you can water it down when you use it in a recipe. Also, don't freak out if your stock looks like loose jello. This is what you want! It means the natural gelatin found in the bones and other chicken parts has leached into your stock. The quivering liquid jiggle of homemade stock really sets it apart from its store-bought counterpart.



Karen said...

I'm so impressed with you! I've always wanted to try making stock, since I buy SO much of it and use it daily. I'm no longer afraid to try - this is a great recipe for the faint of heart. If you're not using a big stock pot, what size do you use? I'm curious if my "go to" pot for chili and soup would work. By the way, I just reviewed a recipe from Ellie Krieger's new book on my website. You would love this Lemon Chicken Soup with orzo. You can even try out your new stock!

Josie said...

Karen, I am so happy you are going to try to make stock! It seriously tastes radically different from store-bought. So much richer!! I think your chili pot would work just fine - that is what I use. I have pretty inexpensive/junky pots and pans. Someday, I swear I will get nice ones... but I just used my 5.5 quart chili pot actually. (It one of my "nicer" pots from Martha Stewart's collection for Macys). Basically you just want the pot to be big enough to get your carcass and aromatics in but still be able to cover them with cold water.
I am headed over to your blog right now :)