Cooking Techniques: Chicken Stock

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf there’s any one commodity in my kitchen that is worth it’s weight in gold, it is home-made chicken stock. I’m not talking about the salty garbage you buy at the store that has been fined and filtered to oblivion and back, or even the kind that costs $80 for 2 cups worth at Williams-Sonoma during the holidays (I wish I was kidding). I’m talking about the kind that takes 8 hours to cook, anyone can make, and results in a rich, delicious, savory, viscous, concentrated broth.

What exactly does one use chicken broth for, other than the obvious chicken soup? Well, let me tell you all the things I use it for.

Risotto. Use your home made chicken stock to make the most delicious risotto you’ve ever had.
Matzoh Ball Soup. Get that matzoh ball mix from the store and get ready to indulge in this classic New York soup.
Pan Sauce. That’s right, you can use your home made chicken broth to make unbelievable pan sauce any day of the week.
Polenta/Lentils/Rice/Grains. Cook your whole grains with some chicken broth and go from ho-hum to OMFG.
Bread Pudding. If you’ve never made this before, you are missing out. Home made chicken stock makes it ethereal.
Braising Liquid. Use chicken stock to braise anything from chicken to veal.
Mashed Potatoes. Add this to your battle-worn mashed potato recipe and get ready to be amazed.
Stir-fry. Use chicken stock in your stir fry for a healthy alternative to oil.
Cereal. Just kidding.

So you see, you can use chicken stock in pretty much anything (well, except for your Cap’n Crunch, but I won’t tell anyone if you try it). This recipe will go over how to make a batch in an 8 quart stock pot, which should yield about 5 quarts of stock. That’s enough to last me about a month. You will find that although cooking it can take a really long time, there is really very little technique involved and it’s very easy to make if you have a whole day to spend at home.

The key is getting enough carcasses to start with. Some recipes call for a whole chicken, meat included. I feel this is a waste of perfectly good meat, as chicken is not great when it’s boiled. Also, the thing that makes home made stock special is the broken-down connective tissue, cartilage and bone which gives it an amazing texture. The only way to achieve this is by using lots of bones and cooking them for a really long time. The best way to get a high bone to meat ratio is by using carcasses with most of the meat removed. I like to use three carcasses to one pot of stock – use fewer and your stock may come out thin and bland. The cheapest way to obtain them is to buy your chicken whole from your local butcher, ask them to break it down into 4 pieces (leg/thigh, boneless breast/wing) and to wrap up the carcass & necks separately so you can freeze them. The meat will serve 4-6 people, or you can freeze the individual pieces and cook them as needed. Over time, you will end up with several frozen chicken carcasses, and then you’ll be ready to make stock.

As for aromatic vegetables to complement the chicken, the sky is the limit. Below I will make some suggestions and generally you want to use at least some carrots, celery & onions. You can really use anything you want. I tend to add herbs, parsley stems, fennel, bay leaf, peppercorns, and anything else that’s super aromatic and can stand up to long periods of cooking without disintegrating. Get creative here!

Tala’s Chicken Stock Recipe
Time Required: 30 minutes prep, 8 hours cooking

8 quart stock pot (give or take)
Large fine-mesh strainer
Large heat-resistant container to strain your finished stock into (I just use my smaller stock pot)
Several 1 qt. & 1 pt. mason jars with lids
Fat separator (not mandatory, but saves you a lot of trouble)

3 large carrots, broken in half
3 celery ribs, broken in half
2 medium onions, paper left on and sliced in half
1 whole head of garlic, paper left on and sliced in half
1-2 bay leaves (I just pick mine off the neighborhood Bay Laurel tree)
10-20 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp. whole peppercorns
1 medium bulb of fennel, green parts removed & sliced in half
3 chicken carcasses, necks, feet, heads, whatever you have left over (except livers, do NOT use the liver as it turns bitter)
1. Put all ingredients into your 8 quart stock pot. Don’t worry if it gets really full (see below), as everything will break down within the first hour of cooking and fit into the pot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2. Fill the pot with water up to the top, leaving about an inch of space so that the water doesn’t boil all over the place.
3. Place on the stove and turn on the heat to high. I start with frozen carcasses and that’s totally fine. They don’t need to be thawed because you are going to be boiling them. Save yourself the trouble and let the water do the work.
4. Once the water starts to boil, turn the heat down to medium and bring to a simmer or slow boil. You will notice a grey scum collecting on the surface of the stock (see below). Skim this off with a large spoon and discard. The scum should stop forming after the first 30 minutes or so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5. Simmer for about 8 hours. You don’t need to boil the bejeesus out of it; a slow boil or a simmer is fine. Some of the water will evaporate, just add it back as it starts to get a little low. You want all of your ingredients to remain submerged, so don’t let it get more than a few inches low. You will also notice that the chicken will start to break apart after the first hour or so and will create more space in the pot for liquid. Below is a photo of what it might look like after a few hours.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA6.  After 8 or so hours have passed, turn the heat off and get out your fine mesh strainer & your second large container (I use my smaller stock pot).
7. Place your strainer over your container and SLOWLY pour the entire contents of your pot of stock through the strainer. Be very careful, ask for help if you need it, and for the love of God don’t burn yourself! You may need to empty out the strainer halfway through as it fills with chicken parts and spent vegetables.
8. Discard the solids from your stock. At this point you’ve boiled every last bit of flavor out of them and they won’t be good for much of anything.
9a. Now for skimming the fat. A fine home-made chicken stock has very little fat in it, but you may notice that the new stock you just strained is full of chicken grease. The easiest way to skim the fat is by using a fat separator. This is one of the very few single-purpose kitchen tools I have, because I make stock so often and it really does save you a lot of trouble. Fill the fat separator and give it a minute so the fat can float to the top. Then, pour off the clear stock into your mason jars, leaving an inch and a half of headspace; this will prevent them from breaking when you freeze them. Once filled, stick them in your freezer.
9b. If you don’t have a fat separator, then just put the whole stock-filled container into an ice water bath to bring the temperature down very quickly – this prevents bacterial growth. Once it’s cool to the touch, stick the whole container in your refrigerator until the fat has floated to the surface and turned solid from the cold. Then you can just remove it with a slotted spoon, then pour the fat-free stock into your mason jars (leaving an inch and a half of headspace!) and then freeze them.
10. When it’s time to use some stock, just pull a jar out of the freezer, remove the metal lid and ring, then stick the whole jar into the microwave and defrost. Use what you need and refrigerate or re-freeze the rest.