Taking Stock and Making Stock

December 21, 2011 § 3 Comments

When the sun sets at 4 o’clock and you’re inner compass is wonky, something has to be done.  For me, that thing has been to make stock, the foundation for all things delicious in winter cooking.  Making stock is restorative on many fronts.  It’s simple, which relieves my brain.  It makes my house smell good, which makes it feel more like a cozy haven and less like a prison run by grade schoolers.  And it allows me to stockpile… that word is so appropriate…which will relieve untold amounts of stress in the future.

There is no more valuable ingredient in my freezer than homemade stock of any stripe.  Chicken is the most versatile, but roasted vegetable stock goes a long way too.  When you’re in a hurry to put dinner on the table, simplicity is key.  Using homemade stock makes a nearly instant meal taste labored over and exquisitely balanced.  Even if said meal is shreds of leftovers from the back of the fridge and half-stale items from the pantry.  Some ideas for good, nearly instant meals made possible by homemade stock…

1) Soup, of course!  Simmer whatever vegetables you have on hand in stock, pour over cooked noodles, garnish with parmesan.  That 4-day old bread on top of the toaster oven will make absolutely delicious crostini. Change the flavor profile from European to Asian by adding a bit of fish sauce, cilantro and star anise to the broth while it simmers.  Call the spaghetti ‘egg noodles’, and it’s a done deal.

2) Enrich pasta sauces …. sautee aromatics like onion, shallot, or garlic in butter. Pour in a bit (1/2 a cup or so) of stock, and wine if you have some.  Bring the sauce to a simmer, stir in more butter. Add cheese!  Tossed cooked pasta in the skillet.  Add more cheese! Also, if you float store-bought tortellini in broth with a grating of parmesan, you can call the dish ‘Tortellini en Brodo’.  Sounds fancy AND your kid might eat it.  Double points.

3) Risotto.  I was intimidated by risotto for a long time – it has a reputation for being high maintenance. Well, I refuse to maintain my pots of risotto and they still perform.  It’s not true that you need to constantly stir risotto – just occasionally (to make it feel important). Risotto is one of my favorite ways to use leftover bits of vegetables and meat (it’s Europe’s version of fried rice, I think) and it is greatly enhanced by ‘real’ stock.

I hope I have proved my point – these are just a few ideas.  If you have other great uses for homemade stock, please let us hear them!

Chicken Stock

Yield: approximately 3 quarts

1 4lb chicken, or parts (combination of wings, backs, necks) – the fresher the bird, the better the stock!

2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 medium yellow onion, sliced lengthwise (leave the peel on to add color to your stock)

3 ribs of celery (with leaves if you have them), roughly chopped

3 whole cloves (optional, but they add a pleasant sweetness. If you have them, stick them in the onion)

10 (or so) black peppercorns

1. Place the chicken in a heavy-bottomed 8 qt stock pot.  Fill the pot with cold water – cover the chicken by 4 inches.

2.  Put the pot over high heat and bring to a boil.  Skim the foam that accumulates and discard.

3. Add the vegetables and spices and reduce the heat to medium.  Continue to skim the foam off the top of the stock and  reduce heat as necessary.  You want a slow simmer. Resist stirring the stock as it’s cooking – this way you’ll avoid cloudy stock.

4. After an hour, you can remove the chicken and carve off the poached breast for use in another dish.  Or, you can give up the whole bird in the name of fantastic stock.  If you take off the breast, return the rest of the carcass to the stock and get it simmering again.

5. After three hours, taste the stock and judge its flavor (remember, it doesn’t have salt yet, so don’t be too harsh). Ask yourself: “Does this taste like liquid chicken?”  That’s the ideal.  The only requirement that I have is that it has to taste better than water.  If it’s weak, give it another hour simmering on the stove. If it’s still weak after an hour- strain it and reduce it.

*Note: I often turn the burner to low, cover the stockpot, and leave it at a bare simmer overnight.  In the morning, before you strain the stock, bring it back to a boil for 5 minutes.

6. When it’s time to strain the stock, find your largest bowl or pot. I use a slotted spoon to lift the biggest parts of chicken and vegetables out of the stockpot first, dumping them straight into the compost (squeeze as much liquid out of these parts, back into the pot,  as you can). Once those are removed, place a colander in the large bowl and strain the stock.  I like to strain the stock a second time, through a wire mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth.

7. If you’re happy with the flavor, let your liquid gold cool.  If it seems a bit weak, boil the heck out of it until you approve of the flavor.  Reducing the stock is also a great trick if you have limited freezer space. It will be ulta-concentrated and you can ‘rejevenate’ it when you need to by adding water.  Think of it as supreme bouillon. Once the stock has cooled overnight in the fridge, skim the fat off the top of the bowl and discard.

8. Divide the stock into 2C tupperware containers, or freeze it in small ziplock bags arranged on a sheet tray. Once they’re little blocks of ice, the bags of stock can be tucked into any crevice in your freezer.

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