Monday, October 26, 2009

Homemade Chicken Stock

I finally succeeded and broke my pattern. As I'm sure you have no idea what I'm talking about, my cooking so far has been following a pattern: first I make a successful dish, and then the next one is a failure, followed by another successful dish, and another failure. (You'll also notice the dishes that are failures are the salads I've made so far. Coincidence? I think not.) Well for the first time so far, I made two successful dishes in a row! First the granola bars and now the chicken stock. I know I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, so let me start at the beginning.

Chicken stock is something that I've never made before. I personally think that using a quality store-bought variety works just fine, mostly because I never wanted to deal with butchering a bunch of whole, raw chickens, which I thought was integral to making chicken stock. So I've been perfectly content using the boxed variety. That being said, I don't typically make recipes that call for large amounts of stock, such as soups or stews. The only time chicken stock is typically made in my house is when my mom makes matzoh ball soup for Passover, and spends an afternoon making Martha Stewart's chicken stock, something I choose to opt out of every year. 

Because of this inexperience, I was a little hesitant to even look at the recipe for this stock. As soon as I saw the words chicken neck or liver, I was slamming the book shut and vowing myself over to vegetarianism. Ok, a little dramatic I know, but I don't do well with raw meat. It is at this point that blogger Carol Blymire would start laughing hysterically since dealing with a few puny chickens is no comparison to the butchering she was faced with. But again, sorry Carol. You're just more woman than me.

Now Ina, unlike myself, thinks homemade chicken stock really makes a difference. I've heard her say it a hundred times on her show, and have never seen her use anything other than her own. Not only is there a recipe for homemade chicken stock in Back to Basics, requiring me to make it in order to complete my project, but Ina has also included a lot of recipes for different soups and stews, in which chicken stock plays an integral part. Since Fall and Winter are such nice times to spend an afternoon making a nice, warm, hearty soup, I knew I wanted to make the chicken stock relatively soon so I could get started on some of those dishes.

Dan and I had already done the shopping for the week so I had all the ingredients I needed. This recipe makes 6 quarts of chicken stock, most of which I would freeze until I needed it. This of course led me on a search for appropriate tupperware. What I really wanted were single quart-sized round containers, basically the plastic containers Chinese food comes in. Of course, these were nowhere to be found. I checked the grocery store and then Target (after a second round, successful job interview) but no dice. I don't know where Ina gets her cookware, but I would love to find out since I'm having serious problems finding the containers and bakeware she uses, which is incredibly frustrating. Anyway, I took what I could find and headed home to face the birds:
I really wanted to come up with some clever names for this trio, but couldn't really think of any that were worthy enough. Maybe next time. I'm open for suggestions. Thankfully, all I had to do with these little ladies was rinse them off and remove the lovely package-o-parts that was tucked inside the cavity. Even this was a little much for me and I considered vegetarianism for about 2 minutes, until the thought of a cheeseburger crossed my mind and I pressed on. I put the chickens into the biggest pot we had, which incidentally, was not big enough. Even though it was pretty huge, it was only about half the size I needed. A 16-20 quart stockpot: yet another piece of cookware that only Ina has. Next up were the celery carrots and onion:
This recipe also calls for parsnips, but they are optional. I really wanted to use them since they're not a vegetable I'm that familiar with and I was curious how they would change the flavor of the stock, but after looking in two separate grocery stores, I couldn't find them. Clearly I did not look in Whole Foods or I'm sure I would have been successful.

Ina suggests using carrots with the greens still attached since she thinks they're sweeter...sure Ina. They also look pretty. The one good thing about making chicken stock is there's not a lot of prep work like dicing or precise measuring. I washed the celery, which included the leaves, and cut the stalks into thirds, and did the same with the carrots, discarding their greens. Since I washed the carrots and we weren't going to eat them, there was no need to peel them, which was also a plus. Lastly, I quartered the onions, leaving the peels on. This may sound strange, but the peel is actually what gives the chicken stock its deep brown color, so although it's not important for taste, it makes a difference aesthetically. And, it's one less step!

I added all of these pieces to the stock pot with the chickens, shoving the celery stalks and carrot sticks down the sides of the pot, since I was already running out of room. Next were the herbs:
which consisted of parsley, thyme, dill, and garlic. There was no need to chop any of these herbs or even peel the garlic. I simply cut it in half crosswise and even left the peel on. I squeezed all of these into the pot, which looked a little something like this:
The biggest problem with using a pot that was too small was that there wasn't enough room for the 7 quarts of water once all the other ingredients were inside. I added about half of that, which was all that would fit, and put the whole shebang over very high heat. Once it came to a boil, I reduced the heat to bring the stock down to a simmer. My plan, since I couldn't add all of the necessary water initially, was to add it gradually as the stock reduced, allowing more room for more liquid.

After just half an hour on the stove, the entire first floor was smelling delicious. It was at this point that Dan came home and took a look at my handiwork. Soups, stews, and stocks are things that he really enjoys cooking and has some experience with so I was a little nervous about what he would think of my concoction. The look on his face as he walked in the door and caught a whiff of the chickeny-deliciousness was promising though. To ensure I wasn't just stewing a big vat of bacteria, he checked that the temperature was high enough, which of course it was (I blame the biochem background and med school paranoia). He did notice that part of one of the chickens wasn't cooking, since there wasn't enough space to cover it completely with water. He suggested we cut the chicken into pieces to make it fit a little more easily and since I wasn't about to go fishing for chicken to butcher, he grabbed some tongs and strapped on his apron.
Just look at that concentration and technique 
He cut the chicken into four pieces and we situated it back into the pot. Dan was also helpful in noticing that a lot of fat from the chicken had risen to the top of the pot, and was sort of stifling the rest of the liquid from evaporating and reducing. This was all news to me. But we got a ladle and skimmed most of the fat away, putting it into a bowl to discard later.

As the stock simmered for the rest of the afternoon, I added more hot water, 2 cups at a time, as often as I could, while skimming away fat and other impurities. This is pretty much what it looked like the whole afternoon:
Appetizing, I know
Chicken fat, sort of like bacon grease, is not something you can just pour down the sink, so I used empty Diet Coke cans to dispose of the grease. By the end of the process I had 2 full cans. Gross.

The stock simmers for four hours, and luckily after about 3 hours I had successfully added the total amount of water to the pot. Since this was obviously a departure from the original recipe, I let the stock simmer for an additional 30 minutes, just for good measure. Finally it was done and was time to strain. I set up a smaller sauce pot with a colander over top of it to catch the solids, and started ladling the stock into it:
so that it looked like this:
I must say, I was pretty impressed with the golden color of this stock 
Dan couldn't stand the thought of wasting all the chicken meat that had been cooking in the delicious stewy mixture all day, so he begged me to save as much of it as I could. This was easier said than done. The chicken was so tender that it had basically fallen apart, and trying to salvage chicken meat without any of the mushy vegetables was quite a challenge. Nevertheless, I acquired enough chicken meat to fill the biggest mixing bowl we have and put it in the fridge for Dan to deal with. In the end, Dan's dog Jager ate more of it than we did since we kept feeding him scraps and eventually just had to throw it away.

As I strained, I filled the numerous tupperware containers I had gotten earlier that day and put them in the fridge:
This recipe yields 6 quarts of chicken stock, which was the perfect amount to just fit into all of my containers. Once they were all filled, they went into the fridge to chill over night. The next day, I checked each container for any fat that had risen to the top. Since chicken fat solidifies at room temperature (or colder) when the stock cools, all the leftover fat rises to the top and is very easy to discard. Since I had done such a good job of skimming the day before though (remember the 2 Diet Coke cans?) there was barely any fat in any of the containers. Something to note about good chicken stock: when cool, it more closely resembles Jello than stock. I'm not sure why this is, and surprisingly Ina doesn't make a note of it in the recipe, which might be concerning to other cooks who have never made stock before and end up with chicken Jello. But I knew this was nothing to worry about so as I finished with each container, I put them in the freezer to store until I needed them.

Oh, I haven't mentioned how this tasted yet. It was good. Really good. Very flavorful, not too salty, and nice and clear with no impurities. Now, I've never tasted store bought chicken stock straight out of the package, so I can't really speak to how my stock compares to store bought. But since no one's here to dispute me, I'll say mine was better.

Phew, that was a looong post. I guess it's appropriate given the length of time it took to make this recipe, but if you think about it, there wasn't actually that much work involved.   

Make this when: you have a full day to devote to it and it's too rainy and cold to do anything fun outside. Since it makes the whole house smell wonderful, it's also a good thing to make when you want to impress someone with your baller cooking skills. 

Next Course: Wild Mushroom Risotto


  1. It turns to jello because you've denatured all of the chicken's connective tissue protein (collagen), turning it into gelatin. It's the same process that makes brisket tender. Sorry if I ruined cooking for you...

    Nice post! It's too bad readers can't smell the deliciousness that was this stock.

  2. Eww gross Dan!

    I only hope I will be able to forget this connective tissue business in time for Morgan to make this delicious looking broth for Passover and my fav matzo balls!

    Oh and for next time the chickies can be named after the golden girls! Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy! :)

  3. Looks delicious! Given the time of year it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a container of this Jewish penicillin in the freezer!

    Can't wait to taste the combo of this stock and Alex's matzo balls!

  4. You are on for Passover 2010 - I can use the day I typically spend making mine shopping instead. Interesting conflict for you - but remember your blog is about cooking not shopping (that would be your sister's)it is a question of priorities.


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