Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chicken Stock

It's not the most beautiful thing you'll ever make, but homemade chicken stock will work wonders for your home cooked dishes. Risottos, soups, and sauces are all elevated by this simple stock, and all you have to do is get it started, then go watch a couple episodes of Jersey Shore while it does its thing. Oh and it'll save you a bundle of money. That's delicious too.

This is another recipe from Martha Stewart's Cooking School, and Martha has a lot to say about stock. I'll refer you to her book for most of these tips, but here are the basics. Consider this stock a bastardized version of Martha's.

Start with your chicken bones. When I made roasted chicken last weekend, I saved the carcass (mmm carcass) in a large Ziploc bag. I also had the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving in the freezer (they last in the freezer for about three months, so it was about time to use it or lose it). If you don't happen to have chicken bones hanging around, you can buy chicken necks and backs at a poultry counter for next to nothing. Martha recommends this, since you get more flavor from raw bones than you do cooked.

But I'm not a billionaire like Martha, so I used the chicken/turkey I have. So yeah, this is more "poultry stock" I guess...

Cover your bones with water (they should be just covered), and bring to a boil.
This is not what a boil looks like. You want a big rolling boil, like pasta water. While the chicken heats up, chop up some celery, carrots, and onion.
The vegetables will flavor the broth, along with some peppercorns and a bay leaf. I use fresh bay leaf because we have a tree here, but using dried bay leaf is perfectly ok here.
Once the water with the chicken is boiling, add your vegetables, pepper, and bay leaf. Then reduce the heat to just a bare simmer (the bubbles should barely break the surface of the water). This should take about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours (the longer you leave it, the more the flavor concentrates). Periodically check your pot and skim off any fat that has bubbled to the top with a ladle (it will be foamy).
When the stock is done, the vegetables will be completely squishy (that's another chef word), and the meat will fall off the bone.

Now it's time for straining. First I remove any big objects (large bones, chunks of vegetable/meat, etc) with tongs. Tongs are an indispensable kitchen tool, I highly recommend them. Next, I line a strainer with cheesecloth, and put it over a large bowl in the sink. Then, depending on how comfortable you are with the weight of your pot, either pour or ladle the stock through the strainer.

Your finished stock will look like this.
Little impurities like the ones you see here can be skimmed off with a small spoon.

Martha says to let the stock cool completely before transferring to smaller containers, but I'm gonna confess that when I made this stock, it was late and I was tired and Jersey Shore was over and I just wanted to go to bed. So I transferred the stock to the fridge while it was still warm. When the stock is refrigerated, it will form a thin film of fat on the top. Don't freak out, just remove it with a spoon, it'll come right off.
This picture is horrendous, but you get the idea. Stock freezes.

The next morning I transferred the containers to the freezer, where they will chill out until it's time for the homemade stock to fulfill its destiny as that extra bit of awesome in my next risotto. The recipe yields about 6 quarts. A quart of stock at the grocery store is about $4, so you just made $24 worth of stock for less than the cost of the ingredients. Do you need any more reason to get going on this? Get your big pot out!

Basic Chicken Stock
From Martha Stewart's Cooking School

5 pounds chicken backs, necks, and wings
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into eighths
1 dried bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Place chicken parts in an 8-quart stockpot. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch (about 3 quarts). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, using a ladle to skim any impurities and fat that rise to the surface.

Add carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf, and peppercorns and reduce heat to a bare simmer. Cook, skimming surface frequently, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth set over a large bowl; strain stock through lined sieve. Discard solids.

If using stock immediately, skim fat from surface and use as desired, or set bowl of stock in an ice-water bath and let cool completely. Transfer cooled stock to an airtight container; cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours to allow fat to accumulate at the top. Lift off fat and discard before using or storing. Stock can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months; thaw completely in refrigerator before using.

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