Frequently, my recipes will call for using chicken stock. I used to purchase this at the grocery store but over the past couple of years I’ve been making it exclusively from scratch at home. It’s remarkably easy and much better tasting than anything you will ever find on a grocer’s shelf. It develops the flavor of every dish you add it to, without fail. Make rice with a bit of stock instead of just water and you bring it to a whole new level. Do the same with pasta and you add a delightful twist to an ingredient that most people take completely for granted.
Kat and I eat a lot of poultry. We usually have a turkey or two in the freezer, sometimes a few chickens as well. As a result, I have plenty of access to chicken carcasses and that’s all I need to get a good start. Onions and carrots are a necessity, and I will often use celery, broccoli stems and herb stems as well.
One may use a variety of herbs when making stock and experimentation is always encouraged. I have found that, because I make stock on such a regular basis and always have a supply in the freezer, it’s best that I use the same herbs every time. This way I am not surprised by the flavor of the particular batch I happen to be using. My herb garden is full of choices but I prefer to use rosemary, parsley and thyme. One could also use savory, sage and/or oregano.
I am not giving this recipe in the same format that I usually do, with measurements and such. I don’t really measure anything here, preferring to wing it each time.
The approximate ratio of water to bones and pieces is around 3:2. I use the biggest stock pot I have available. I will season the water with salt and will also add peppercorns, either whole or cracked. I will also use red pepper flakes here, about a two-finger pinch. Bring this to a near boil and then simmer over low heat, skimming off any scum that rises to the top. At this point I will also add the herbs; a few sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of rosemary, several sprigs of thyme, and a couple of bay leaves. I let the stock simmer for 45 minutes to an hour and then add 2 or 3 carrots, cut into large pieces, and a large onion, also cut into big chunks. I will smash several garlic cloves with the flat side of my large chef’s knife and throw those in too, along with 2-3 stalks of celery, leaves and all. Sometimes, if they are available in my garden, I will just use celery leaves. Another thing I’ll add at this point is a tablespoon of tomato paste, which gives the stock a nice color and brings out a lot of the flavor of the other ingredients. Once I’ve added the vegetables, I let the stock simmer over low heat for another 45 minutes to an hour, until the carrots are cooked through. Place a heat resistant colander over a second pot and drain the stock, being careful to catch all the liquid in the second stock pot. Discard everything else. I will clean out the first pot real good with a paper towel, making sure to get all the small pieces of chicken out. Place a fine mesh strainer over the first pot. I will also place something inside the strainer – cheesecloth, a fine cotton towel, even a coffee filter. Pour the stock through the filter and strainer, catching any remaining bits. These, if left in the stock, will turn its flavor. Place the stock back on the stove over medium heat and add a half cup to a cup of white wine, vermouth, or sherry. I will also add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice. Adjust the seasonings, adding salt and maybe white pepper, but nothing that will cloud the broth or leave chunks of floating debris. I will continue to heat the stock until it reduces a bit. Keep tasting, you’ll know when it’s done. Allow the stock to cool and skim off any fat that rises to the top. Pour the broth into pint or quart jars, finish cooling, and freeze or keep it in the refrigerator and use it right away.
Another storage option is to continue reducing the stock until it is very strong. Cool it, pour it into ice cube trays, and freeze. Once the cubes have frozen, pop them loose and store them in a freezer bag. This allows you to use only small portions of stock if you are, say, cooking for 1 or 2 people.
This basic recipe can be used to make stock of any kind, not just chicken. Try it with beef or veal bones, lamb or, if you have plenty of vegetables, omit the meat altogether and make a hearty vegetable broth. The possibilities are endless and once you have a good supply of homemade stock on hand, there is almost nothing you can’t make taste wonderful!