Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ranch recipes: Homemade chicken stock


There are so many reasons to make your own delicious chicken stock: it tastes better, you control the quality of ingredients and it is not chock full of sodium like store bought brands. I make stock maybe six or eight times a year and freeze the liquid gold in various size containers so I can add it to any recipe. A good stock is essential in soups or stews but also jazzes up other dishes like mashed potatoes or rice by infusing them with a rich flavor.

Making your own stock is not difficult and makes a great weekend task but before we get started on the step by step, let's a address a very fine line between stock and broth. Stock in general is made from simmering the bones of meat or seafood while broth refers to the liquid from simmering meat (with or without bones). Veggies, spices and salt can be added to either stock or broth but the general distinction comes from the ratio of bones to meat. Technically if a whole cut up chicken is poached, the resulting liquid is a broth - richly flavored from the meat. Simmering a picked chicken carcass low and slow for many hours will result in a stock which derives some of the flavor from the collagen and marrow.

Whether making stock or broth, the process is relatively simple - simmer for a long time, strain and enjoy!
Today I am making the simplest type of stock - unseasoned with no salt, no seasonings and no veggies, just chicken.

Basic Homemade Chicken Stock

- Chicken bones - this could be a previously cooked whole chicken carcass that has been picked clean or chicken backs or necks. If you don't plan on making stock right away with a leftover chicken carcass, bag it and freeze it. In our Meat CSA, we offer packages of chicken backs and necks as extras for making stock. Due to their odd shape and pokey parts, the vacu-bags lose their seal quite frequently leaving me with several packages of meat a year that are too frosted to send out in CSA, but still just perfect for making stock.
- Water
- Optional: 1 onion, 2-3 carrots, 3-4 ribs of celery (a great use for carrots and celery that are starting to get a bit rubbery), 2-3 cloves garlic, 1-2 bay leaves, pepper 

Chicken backs ready for making stock

1. Add chicken parts to a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and turn down to a bare simmer. Simmer three to four hours on low or until the liquid is a rich yellow color. Some folks will simmer stock for 12 to 24 hours until the bones are soft but if you are interested in picking off any remaining meat from the bones, do so before four hours or everything starts to fall apart and tiny bones can easily be missed.

2. When the stock is done cooking, turn off the burner and gather another stock pot and top with a colander. Carefully pour the stock into the colandar to strain out the meat and bones. Put the pile of bones and meat in another bowl, we will return to them soon. Wash the first pot (the one the stock simmered in on the stove) and rinse the colander.

3. Now we want to strain the stock again to clear away any little bits of meat, bone and the layer of yellow fat that floats on top of the pot so all we are left with is the golden stock. Arrange the colander over the top of the washed pot and line the strainer with a couple paper towels. Carefully pour the stock into the lined colander.

4. The remaining clear liquid is the basic chicken stock. Use the stock fresh within three or four days or put into containers (leaving an inch of head space for plastics, more for glass to accommodate expansion during freezing) and freeze for up to six months.

Or if you plan to use in the next few days, just put the stock pot in the fridge. The next day when you take it out, the stock may have set up into a jello-like consistency (as the gelatin renders out when simmered for a long time). This is perfectly normal and will return to a liquid again once heated. The first time I made stock I had a minor freak out when the spoon stood straight up in pot and I didn't have anyone to pat my shoulder and tell me that it was OK and that just means that I made it right. So here is your reassuring shoulder pat in advance, <pat> <pat>.

Since this is the absolute simplest type of chicken stock recipe, it may taste a little flat at this point due to a lack of seasonings. Personally I am a fan on unsalted stock because it gives me the freedom to season to taste in my final recipe but if you prefer, feel free to season now.

5. Now we return to the bones. For this step I like to use a pair of disposable, food grade gloves to pick the chicken from the bones. For one, if the chicken is still really hot, the gloves protect my hands and for two, I don't much care for greasy chicken fingers. Pick around and pull the meat away from the bones being very careful to not accidentally add little bones to the pile (the neck is one place to be extra careful). Don't worry about getting every little tidbit, just the bigger chunks. It can be pretty surprising to see how much meat comes off the bone.

Use the meat for chicken soup, chicken and dumplings, chicken pot pie or even mix it up for a chicken salad sandwich. I like to freeze this "picked" chicken in vacu-bags and then for evenings when I have no time to defrost and cook meat, I add it to whatever I am cooking (we added such chicken to our chicken coconut curry last night and it was very good) for a quick meal.

That's it. It really is that easy. Homemade stock is so rich and flavorful and you control the quality of the ingredients. No spending $3-4 dollars a carton for chicken flavored salt water and now you have several quarts of homemade stock for delicious soups all season long.

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