Last summer, I think I mentioned that Joe started going to a hardcore new gym that employs a method of fitness called Cross Fit. The classes combine calisthenics, free weights and cardiovascular training into an hour long, puke-til-you-drop, can’t-walk-right-the-next-day workout. So obviously, even though Joe has seen amazing results, I could never join this gym. For me, a workout is a mile long run and a set of push ups quickly followed by a cheese plate for a snack.
But in any case, because of his intense three-day a week exercise regimen, we’ve been eating a lot more salad for dinner and a lot less pasta (Sad for me. Now I’m reduced to hoping that Joe will have after work events, so I can cook myself pasta while he’s gone. He’ll probably come home someday soon and find me sitting in our dark coat closet, slurping up a half pound of spaghetti.). Because Joe’s always wanting a big salad with some kind of protein in it, I have to mix it up, or else I’ll get really bored with our nightly rabbit food fest. So in the last month or two, I started purchasing an organic chicken each week, roasting it, and using the meat throughout our meals. I can shred the meat, and mix it with pesto for pesto chicken salad. Or, I can cut the breasts straight from the bone, and slice them width wise into “steak” pieces. Sometimes, we go more French and I’ll serve the whole leg atop greens, with a bit of goat cheese and oil and vinegar.
For me though, the best part about buying the whole bird is the carcass. Because with that, a few aromatics, and a handful of spices, I can constantly have chicken stock on hand. Each Sunday for the last few weeks, I’ve thrown all the ingredients into my soup pot, and let them simmer away while we laze about at home. The smell of freshly made chicken stock is unbelievable–there’s truly nothing like it. I wish Febreeze made an air spray out of it.
Anyway, I put together a photo tutorial of basic chicken stock making from a batch I made this last weekend. For all you novices, the process is really easy. Trust me, after you make it once, you can never buy the boxed stuff again (Don’t even get me started on the canned variety. It smells like catfood.).
First, start with the basics. You’ll need a couple carrots, an onion, and some celery–collectively known as mirepoix. Sometimes, I have limp leftover leeks on hand, and I’ll use those in place of onion. Also, gather up a couple sprigs of thyme, some parsley, a bay leaf, and some black peppercorns. Make sure to tear the parsley leaves off the stems, and save them for something else. If the leaves stew for too long, then can either a) breakdown into mush and dissolve into your stock or b) kick out some bitter flavors.
I used to just give the carrots a good scrub, cut ’em up and toss them into the pot (Alton Brown once mentioned that was okay), but then I got in trouble for doing that in school. So now I peel them. Don’t want no French chefs yelling at me.
Here are all the ingredients cut and placed in the pot. See how the cuts are pretty big? That’s because I’m planning on letting this cook for a while. Cutting the aromatics into tiny little pieces doesn’t make sense for long cook times, since they’ll just cook quickly then turn to mush. The mirepoix ratio should be approximately 2:1:1::onion:carrot:celery. I overdid that a little here, because I had celery to get rid of. Also, you might notice I didn’t put the herbs and peppercorns into a sachet. This is purely because I’m lazy. If you haven’t figured it out yet, you can kind of go your own way when you’re making stock at home. If for some strange reason you’re referencing my blog to figure out how to make stock in a professional kitchen, well, uh…you should probably, go talk to your chef, like, now. Don’t listen to a word I say.
Next, the chicken carcass. I had roasted this bird earlier in the week, then froze the remaining bones and scrap to use on Sunday. Once all the ingredients are in the pot, fill it with cold water. Why cold water? According to McGee, “the cold start…allow[s] the soluble proteins to escape the solids and coagulate slowly, forming large aggregates that either rise to the surface and are easily skimmed off, or settle onto the sides and bottom. A hot start produces many separate and tiny protein particles that remain suspended and cloud the stock; and a boil churns particles and fat droplets into a cloudly suspension and emulsion.”
The stock is starting to warm up! The first bits of scum begin rising to the surface…
And then coagulate more clearly into this. That grey-brown mixture can be skimmed from the top of the stock, along with fat pools that form.
Skim skiminy Skim skiminy Skim Skim Skaroo
At this point, the mixture has been cooking for several hours. Check out those “aggregates” that formed on the sides of the pot! And you can see how the mixture has reduced. I admit, I need to buy a bigger stock pot.
Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Don’t press down on it, else you’ll just force unwanted particles into your pretty stock. To increase clarification, you can strain through cheesecloth AND a metal strainer. Again, I’m just lazy. Let this mixture cool until you can transfer it to containers (safety/sani note: to ensure that the stock doesn’t grow any foodborne illness bugs, cool the liquid down either with food-safe ice packs, or set your metal bowl in an ice water bath).
The finished stock! Okay, so my clarity isn’t fantastic. My bad, Chef Amy. But honestly, I’m not making consomme here. If you have time, you can cool it and then skim any extra fat off the top. Then freeze, and use at your leisure. Sometimes, I like to pour my stock into ice cube trays so I have tablespoon sized servings of it to add into sauces and what not. The best reason to keep a tub or two of this on hand? Recently, Joe got a cold, and I was able to make him truly homeade chicken noodle soup. This stock can work wonders on a stuffed up nose.