Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chicken Stock for Lazy People

chicken stock

The making of home-made soup (this one in particular) without access to either home-made stock or some seriously good local stuff was previously forboden*. Stock that comes in cans and boxes at your grocery store is like a sad memory of what stock was supposed to be before someone threw it down the stairs and drove over it with an Asphalt Compactor a few times. At least, the type at my grocery store. Maybe your grocery store is magical.

Home-made stock is beautiful. The action of making chicken stock has this way of making me feel nostalgically connected to my historical predecessors. It makes my house smell like a home. Plus, it's a frugal way of making everything you cook delicious (and sticking with home cooked meals is frugal on top of that). And yet, other than my mother and my sister, I don't know anyone else who makes home-made chicken stock. I think this is due to THE FEAR.

For a lot if people I know, any recipe that has a preparation time of 4+ hours brings on THE FEAR. Plus, people tend to give you picky rules for stock that make it seem that much more complicated than it needs to be: You have to wrap herbs in little muslin sacks and hang them in your pot, and then you have to hover over your pot for twenty minutes skimming off the scum and "impurities" that bubble to the top lest your stock be cloudy, and you have to wait to add the vegetables after the slow-heat skimming phase, and you have to sing Champs-Élysées the entire time.

chicken stock
Cloudy, still delicious.

But most of us aren't trying to be so particular. We're trying to eat some delicious soup. Cloudy stock is still delicious. You can pare down all the steps for your home-made chicken stock and still end up with something 100x better than you can buy at the store. Nine times out of ten, I make stock using the following steps: 

1. Dump a bunch of stuff in a pot
2. Simmer for a bunch of hours
3. Strain
4. Cool
5. Remove fat and store stock in freezer

While the "simmer for a bunch of hours" step takes some time, it takes no effort. Especially for those of us who are naturally home-bodies and will be sitting in the living room knitting and reading books even when we're not making stock.** I think I might spend 20 minutes of active time making stock, maximum. A few minutes chopping, a few minutes straining, a few minutes storing. I suppose you could include the few minutes that I spend here and there sticking my left-over chicken bones in the freezer during the weeks before I have gathered enough delicious carcasses to make stock.

You will need a decent sized pot and a fine mesh strainer. If you don't have the latter, you could presumably put some cheesecloth into your colander, but mesh strainers are really useful, especially if you make rice using the hard and fast method that I like. The pot I use is actually only a 5L and is large enough to make me about 2 litres of stock. The benefit of small batch stock-making is that you don't have to worry too much about cooling--it will cool quickly enough that you can move it into the fridge without letting it spend too much time in the "danger zone". (I tend to flaunt a lot of the "food safety" rules that we in the west are lectured about, but some people worry about these things. I don't feed babies or old people the stock that I accidentally leave on the stove overnight, reboil, and stick back in my fridge. I feed it to my boyfriend.)

You'll also need to figure out where you're going to get your chicken bones. Where my mother lives, you can get a pound of chicken carcasses at the market for a dollar, which is wonderful. Where I live, it's harder to get people to sell you their carcasses because they all seem to be frozen in bulk and sold to restaurants. Instead, I save the bones from the roast chickens in the freezer until I have the equivalent of about two carcasses.

Now, without further ado, here is my lazy method of making stock.

The "Recipe"

Toss the following things in your pot:

  • Chicken bones (about 3-4lbs, or the left overs from two roasts)
  • 2ish celery stalks, roughly chopped (I often just chop off the entire leafy top of my celery and use that, since I don't eat it)
  • 2ish onions, peeled and halved
  • 2ish carrots, roughly chopped
  • A big bunch of fresh parsley
  • 2ish bay leaves
  • 1 tsp-or-so thyme
  • a dozen pepper corns
Some other options:
  • A head of garlic, if you're the sort that likes garlic.
  • A cup of wine. The alcohol helps to bring the collagen out of the bones, making for a richer stock.
  • 1 tbsp salt. A lot of people advise against adding salt for fear of over-salting something that you're going to reduce into a sauce. When I'm going to use my unreduced stock in soup, I like adding salt.
  • Old parmesan rinds add umami (I toss them in the freezer with my bones when I've got them)
Once your stuff is in your pot, add enough water to cover your ingredients and bring it to a boil. Turn it down to a low simmer and then go do something else for approximately 4 hours.

chicken stock
The carrots are hiding underneath the parsley. This wine is hiding in my wine glass.

Yay! You're almost done! Now that you've made your stock, strain it into some sort of bowl (or multiple bowls) and toss away the essence-less pile of stuff left over. Let the stock cool for a while and then stick it in the fridge. The fat will rise to the top and congeal, and you can scoop it off and throw it away, or maybe save it for making matzah balls? If the fat layer is particularly thin, sometimes you can get it really easily just by laying a paper towel on top and lifting it away. If you're going to leave the stock in the fridge for a while, don't worry about removing the fat until you're gonna use the stock because the fat seal helps to keep the stock fresh.

You're done. Don't freak out if your stock ended up the consistency of Jell-o. That's what you're looking for in a really good stock. It's the gelatin that results from boiling the bones that gives stock it's really rich mouth-feel, despite it being a low fat ingredient. I like to store my stock in yoghurt containers in the freezer, just because I always seem to have far too many yoghurt containers. Some people like to freeze stock in ice cube trays and then ziplock bags so that they can toss small amounts into sauces or rice or whatever (this is probably more effective than my method of digging at the frozen stock with a spoon, or trying to microwave it).

chicken stock
This is my attempt to show my stock being jell-o-y,
but it wasn't a super jell-o-y batch.

chicken stock
The weirdest yoghurt flavour. CHICKEN!
Now you can go make soup. Or risotto! Maybe I'll post a risotto recipe soon. Yum.

chicken stock
This picture was just more delicious-looking than stock.

*"Forboden" SHOULD be a word

**I've definitely left my house to run some errands with my stock simmering away on low, but you didn't hear it from me and if anyone asks I used a crockpot. 

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