Taking stock of stocks – part i
I’ll be sharing a number of soups this fall and winter and since the basis for all good soups is a good stock, let’s begin there. (In the next couple days I’ll also share a good vegetable stock, and later, another one of my favorites.) This won’t require much of your active preparation time, in fact only minutes really, but the stock’s flavors will develop over two or three hours time while you go about your business – or your pleasure. The differences between this and a store-bought stock are several: you know what went into it; it’s very very low sodium; the flavors are simple and pure and won’t be determining how your final dish will taste; and it’s generally less expensive than stock in a box.
You’ll find countless versions of stock out there, and good stocks can vary widely from one another. But great chefs agree on three major points:
~ use only the amount of water needed to cover the chicken & vegetables – and always begin with cold water (I’ll explain) ~
~ the smaller the pieces of chicken, the stronger, more flavorful the stock ~
~ a stock kept at the gentlest simmer and left undisturbed results in a stock that’s clear and unclouded ~
This particular recipe for chicken stock doesn’t contain a lot of onions, carrots, or parsnips which would leave you with quite a sweet stock, or loads of green herbs which would impart a flavor you might not want in your finished dish. You’ll also see, there’s no added salt. That way, no matter what recipe you use subsequently, you shouldn’t end up with a dish that’s overly salty. For that there’s no remedy – as we’ve all discovered.
- 6 pounds chicken parts or bones, or 2 whole chickens with breast meat removed, each cut into 6 pieces
- about 4 quarts of cold water
- 1 small bunch of parsley stems
- 4 4-inch sprigs fresh or dried thyme
- 2 fresh bay laurel leaves, or 1 dried
- 1 onion, quartered with skin on
- 1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
The stock: Put the chicken parts in an 8-quart or larger stockpot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. (The reason for beginning with cold water is that as it heats it will gently pull the impurities from the bones. These will rise and collect as bubbles or foam on the surface.) Using a ladle or large spoon, skim off and discard any fat or impurities that have risen. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming several more times.
The aromatics: Tie the parsley, thyme and bay leaves together with kitchen string to make a bouquet garni. Or bundle the herbs together between two pieces of cut celery and tie these together. Or enclose them in a small muslin bag created for this purpose. Add the herbs to the pot along with the vegetables. Continue to cook the stock, uncovered at the lowest possible simmer for 2 or 3 hours, skimming from time to time if needed.
Straining and storing: Pour the stock through a large colander placed over a large bowl or another large pot. Discard the solids (or feed the carrots and chicken, over days time, to your puppy.) If you plan to use the stock right away, let it settle for a bit then skim off all the fat you can. Otherwise, what I do is pour the stock into quart jars and submerge them in a bath of cold water to bring the temperature down quickly then refrigerate or freeze for later use. The next day, the fat will have neatly collected on top for easy removal. (In the refrigerator, stock will last up to 3 days.)
A note on canned stocks: We all need a good stock in the cupboard to turn to when we’re in a hurry. Some canned or boxed stocks have an enormous amount of salt. Adding them to your recipe could result in more salt than the entire recipe calls for. So, for both health- and flavor-sake, buy low sodium and if possible no MSG. If you can find one with NO salt, as you can in some markets or natural food stores, all the better. If you’re cooking with a salted stock, best not to add salt to your recipe before first tasting.
Pointers on good stock from the executive chef, Jerry Traunfeld, of The Herb Farm Restaurant, Woodenville, Washington
~ ~ ~
Later today, a post on a positively delicious soup using this stock
And a P.S. – if you ever roast a chicken you can take the leftover bones and put them in a zipping plastic bag, label it for stock and put it in the freezer. Add to it, onion skins – believe it or not! They add depth of color and a subtle flavor.