Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Chicken Stock

I admit it up front, this was a first for me. I've never made any kind of stock before. I'm a stock virgin. There seems to be a rising consensus that making your own stock is one of the biggest things a home cook can do for the quality of their food. Add that to the fact that there wasn't much left to make that in the entire book that doesn't require some kind of stock or broth, and it was time to get cooking.

I had been saving chicken carcasses from roast- and beer can-chickens for quite awhile. Ever make a mistake before you've even started cooking? I have. Make sure you clean the bones well before you freeze them. Frozen meat remnants are awfully hard to remove from bones when they are, um, frozen. And if that's not enough reason (it should be, it cost me an hour), you'll really have no idea how many bones you actually have when they're covered in meat. This cost me another hour and a trip to the grocery store for some supplemental bones. Once I had the proper quantity of bones, they all went into my brand spanking new stock pot:

From this point on, things are not exactly difficult, but they are somewhat tedious. If there is one standard theme across the entire book, it's that all impurities should be removed at every possible step. Stock is the perfect example of this; it requires a LOT of skimming. It's probably a good thing though, because a lot of junk that didn't exactly look appetizing rose to the top throughout the process.

Anyway, continuing on, the first step is to cover the bones in cold water. It's important to use cold water as the slow temperature changes are just as important as the actual heating to the development of flavors.

I brought the bones and water up to a simmer very slowly, skimming every few minutes the entire time. It took about 75 minutes to go from cold water and half frozen bones to simmering. Once the water was simmering I dumped in about four pounds of ice to shock the stock. Say that five times fast.

There was quite a large mass of water and bones that were very hot, so the ice melted pretty quickly. In the mean time though, it was remarkably easy to skim off a bunch of fat and some more impurities. With a good portion of the scum scraped off the top, I felt like I could carry on even given the warning that it would be hard to continue skimming once the vegetables were in the pot. What vegetables? These ones:

It's just some giant leeks, giant onions, and giant carrots. Seriously, look at the last picture. They're as big as the stock pot. I stuffed them into the pot and continued to heat the stock and simmer it for another 40 minutes.

So the vegetables weren't really that big. Sue me. Here's another shot of the simmering stock, and it gives a pretty good look at some of the junk that was continually rising to the top.

After that had simmered for 40 minutes, I removed it from the heat and let the stock settle for about ten or fifteen minutes. I then needed to shock it and cool it very quickly. You may remember from a just a few paragraphs ago that I need to go out and buy a stock pot to make this. It shouldn't be a long bridge to cross then to figure out that I didn't have another pot that big, and certainly not two that would suffice for an ice bath. Thankfully I'd planned ahead and made sure the kitchen sink wasn't stocked full of dirty dishes. Get it? Stocked?

I set my dutch oven in a sinkful of cold water filled with every bit of ice in the house. It looked only mildly ridiculous:

Some of the ice had melted at this point, but you get the idea. I, with some assistance, strained the stock into the dutch oven. This was not just a pour and strain situation though. I carefully ladled out scoop after scoop of sauce in an attempt to take as little of the settled junk as possible. It turns out it takes about fifty ladles to ladle out the full amount of stock.

It just barely fit in, which was the first signal that maybe the stock was a little light. I have a six quart dutch oven, and the recipe was only suppose to make 4 quarts. This picture gives a pretty good idea of the amount of fat that was still kind of floating on the surface. There wasn't a whole lot I could do about it. I tried for a little longer to skim off whatever I could.

And here's the remnants from the pan:

There was a lot of junk settled in the bottom that you can't see in the picture, so I'm glad I was careful when ladling the stock into the ice bath. I let it cool, stirring it occasionally until it was completely cool, and then separated it into ziploc bags for long term storage in the freezer.

It made about five and half quarts total, so that should last me many months. It tasted good, if not a little light. I guess that's to be expected though, since the opening words of the recipe are "This is a very light chicken stock." The one thing this stock certainly was not is salty like those store bought broths and stocks. That will be a welcome bonus for sure. Now we just wait for a chance to use all of this...