Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chicken Stock

Ok, so this isn't really a recipe, it's really more like a vital skill. Look, canned broth is fine in its place, I have bouillon cubes for emergencies and I actually really like the "Better than Bouillon" bases that some company that I can't remember the name of makes. But none of these things are homemade stock. Not even close. Comparing them is like comparing twinkies with tirimisu and is, frankly, personally insulting.

For any of you who don't know the difference between stock and broth here is the quick, not terribly accurate answer: broth is made from meat, stock is made from bones. We are going to ignore vegetable ones for now. Heh. With broth you get the flavor of the meat and a liquid that feels like water. It is good for lots of things. With stock you get the flavor of the meat and a liquid that feels like some kind of rich, smooth, wonderful thing. It is good for everything. What happens is the collagen, protein and other goodies break down into the water and give it a smooth almost creamy mouth feel. Stock should turn almost solid, like mostly set jello, when chilled. Pretty much any recipe that calls for broth, use stock instead and it will be better. Especially soups and stews. And rice. I wish I had had stock the other day when I made jambalaya, it makes it smooth like risotto. But, back to the point, you make stock with bones.

What I have here is three split chicken breast rib racks and some scraps. This is adequate, but not ideal. You really want the whole chicken worth of bones. You want all that connective tissue since that's where most of the good stuff comes from (note: you don't use the meat. Stock is made from the carcass or parts that are leftover after you get as much of the meat as you want off of it). A lot of stock recipes call for browning the bones, but if the bones are from a cooked piece of chicken you don't need to. What I have is two sets of cooked and one raw. I didn't bother browning the raw one, it will be just fine. If you have a good cleaver you can chop up the bones, that helps them release their goodies better. My cleaver is a joke, so I don't. A lot of recipes also call for a sachet, a bundle of spices, to be used in it but I don't like doing that. I would rather add what spices I want for each recipe and have my stock just taste like chicken. All I'm adding today is this onion top and a bay leaf. They won't really change the flavor, but will add some nice aroma. Often times carrots, celery, parsley and such are added. You can do that if you want. But like I said, I just want my stock to taste like concentrated chicken. So you put your bones in a pot and cover them with cold water. Starting with cold water is important, hot water binds the proteins and makes it harder for them to release. Or something like that, I can't find my reference that I read it from. But start with cold water. Now bring it to a boil (note: if you care about the appearance of your stock, don't bring it to a boil as it will make it cloudy. Just bring it to a gentle simmer and stir it as little as possible. Just so you folks know, I like my stock cloudy. I'm sure some people will be screaming "blasphemy", but whatever. I just think it looks better than clear stock. If you want clear stock, I can't really help you much. It all tastes the same.), then reduce to a low simmer. Now simmer for hours. Many hours. I have never heard of overcooking stock, I don't think it can happen. I usually cook mine for four to eight hours (it really needs at least four), depending on when I start. I started at noon this time and cooked it for ten hours. While it's cooking it will get this foamy spooge on top. Scrape it off and discard it, you don't want it in there. If the water level drops enough that bones are showing, add some more. Adding hot water is best. My favorite time to make stock is in the winter when it's cold and wicked dry. It fills my apartment with warmth, steam and essentially, chicken potpourri. But today it's overcast, rainy and 65 degrees or so. It's fine stock making weather. Now what I was planning on doing was showing, hour by hour, the way stock looks while it cooks. It would start with watery and mostly clear and end with thick and golden. But unfortunately this didn't work. With the lighting in my kitchen it all looks pretty much the same after hour two. So here is the end of hour one. At this point my brother pulls out the bones and picks off any leftover meat scraps to use in, well, whatever. It's cooked chicken. You can do that. My buddy who went to culinary school leaves it in, he says it adds more flavor. There are pluses to both ways and sometimes I do one, sometimes another. This time I'm leaving the meat in. Here is somewhere in the middle. Lovely isn't it? Now, see how the bones are pretty much all separate? That's the good stuff, the connective tissues are breaking down. When it's done (after at least four hours, the more the better) you will want to strain it. My strainer had an accident a while ago, so I have to turn it inside out. Hopefully you won't have to do that. Just strain it into a container and then put that container into an ice bath. You want the stock to cool pretty quickly. Once it's cool enough to put in the fridge, cover it tightly and do that. I usually chill it overnight, that gives it plenty of time. Several hours should do though. When it is chilled pull it out of the fridge and scrape the fat off. It should come off easily, leaving you with virtually fat free chicken concentrate. Mmmmm. Three split breasts worth of bones and ten hours gave me three cups of stock. Now ... well, use it. It goes great with anything you want chicken flavored liquid in. Right now it should be really like a jelly, but once it heats up a little it turns right back into water-like liquid. I usually freeze it in one cup and half cup portions and pull it out whenever I want, it keeps for months in the freezer. So there you go! Chicken stock. You can use this method with any kind of bones; pork, beef, turkey, whatever you like. Use it, love it.

Addendum: I forgot to mention a couple things. Bones and scrapes can be frozen and saved till you are ready to use them. They last months that way. So if you make a chicken, freeze the carcass once you are done picking it clean and when you have a spare morning/afternoon/evening make some stock. Also if you have cooked your stock all day and used up all the connective tissues and whatnot and strained it and it isn't as strong as you want, just reduce it till it's how you like it. It's not really a delicate substance. Heh.


Jennifer said...

So, can you serve a baked chicken to your family and then save all the picked over bones for stock? Is that ok to do?
I have been enjoying your blog and learning a lot.

Bob said...

Hi Jennifer! Yes, that is absolutely ok to do. In fact, it's one of the best ways to get the bones because when they are cooked it helps with flavor. Just keep all the scraps, bones, any leftover skin and such and freeze them till you are ready to make stock (that is, if you don't want to make it right away. I had meant to mention that in the post... :/), they keep for a really long time frozen. Any leftover seasonings on the bones/scraps don't hurt anything either. Two sets of ribs that I made the stock with for this post were from the roasted chicken breasts I blogged about last month and the scraps of basil made it smell really good.

I'm glad you are enjoying the blog, I'm have a blast doing it. I cook all the time anyway, so I just keep track of what I'm doing (which doesn't really come naturally, heh) and post it.

The Brutal Gourmet said...

Now we come to something dear to me. That is a very lovely stock you have there. The bit you are measuring out looks perfect -- like you can almost cut it with a knife and have the halves stand on their own.

Many people have told me you must use raw bones, or the collagen will already be converted, but if you remember Mom's turkey soup which was always made from the roasted turkey carcass, there was never an issue with it not getting enough soluble protein into the stock.

Still, my favorite stock is the one I make after frying couple of chickens, so I have at least two complete raw, frozen carcasses and whatever other pieces I have saved. After it has simmered for 30-40 minutes pull the carcasses out and pick them clean and you have some nice chicken meat for chicken salads and whatnot. It is sometimes very dark where it was in contact with the bones, but it tastes really good!

Then you put the bones back in and add your other stuff -- veggies, herbs, whatever. Leaving them out until later makes the skimming much easier too, and it's not like they won't have plenty of time in the pot regardless.

I usually get 18-20 cups from a 2+ carcass batch, so I freeze 2 6-cup containers for risotto and the rest in handy 1 or 1/2 cup measures.

The other thing I really like to do when making stock is put a steel colander or steamer insert or something on top of the pot so that the goodies are all kept under the water level. They don't do any good out in the air!

Good stuff, Bob, keep it up :)

Bob said...

Yeah Brutal, I have seen stock recipes call for bones in pretty much every stage of cooking. So I just toss in what I have, however it is and have never had a problem. Man, I used to love it when mom was making turkey stock. She would do it all day long and the whole house would smell like turkey. Good times.


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