Friday, September 13, 2013

Taking Stock of your Chicken

"Save that for stock!"  How often have you heard this from your grandmother, your mother, your favorite cooking show, or from a "helpful" neighbor?  Let's be honest, normal people throw the bones, backs, gizzards, wing tips, and other less appetizing parts of their chicken and turkey into the trash, right?  Well, I don't... but I'm not normal.

Chicken stock is often misunderstood.  First and foremost, it is NOT "Chicken Broth."  Chicken "broth" is made when you boil a chicken to flavor the water, or when you add chicken bouillon to water to make a chicken flavored soup or broth.  Now, if you were to toss the bones and other chicken bits that are packed full of connective tissue, marrow, etc, and if you were to literally boil the essence out of it for hours and hours, you'd end up with an amazing and versatile jiggly, gelatin based chickeny goo that is packed with all the flavor elements you need to make hundreds of recipes that start with "Grandma's homemade...."  That is "Chicken Stock!"  It's super easy to make, it's cheap, and it will be your secret weapon for killer chicken soup, chicken and dumplings, gumbo, casseroles, and a host of other favorites.

You will need:
  • 4 pounds of "Scrap Chicken" (or turkey).  I use backs, giblets, bones, etc.
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 4 carrots, peeled and roughly cut
  • 4 ribs of celery, broken in half
  • A few fresh sprigs of Thyme and Parsley
  • Small handful of peppercorns
  • A few crushed garlic cloves
  • 2 gallons of water
  • NO SALT, WHATSOEVER
Why, "no salt?" Because you'll be adding this stock as a flavoring agent to other dishes that already have salt in them.  Good stock is, by nature, "Low Sodium." Stay away from store-bought broths or stocks that have salt added to them.  Ick.  

Ok, throw everything into a giant stock pot, jack the heat to "HIGH," and bring it to a boil.  Watch it carefully.  I know, you're literally watching water boil right now, but you don't want to be involved with what happens when you don't.  If you don't watch the pot, a lot of "scum" will develop moments after the boiling starts.  Quickly, it will foam up upon itself and it will climb out of the pot and spread itself out, in a bacterial ridden ooze of jubilant freedom, all over your stove-top.  So... Totally... Gross!  Therefore, it would behoove you to be a diligent watcher of the pot until the first boil!
As soon as it boils, scoot the heat down to MEDIUM-LOW and skim the scum off the top with a large spoon.  Keep your scum cup handy because you'll need to skim every 15 minutes for the first hour or so of cooking.  The "Scum Scooper" job is a great one for a family member who typically "wants to help," but who brings no other culinary skills to the table.  After an hour or so, the scum will settle down and the stock will start to find it's rhythm.  

Give the pot a look every couple of hours, and add more water as necessary to keep everything submerged and roiling around in there.  Plan on keeping things at a good boiling simmer for 8 hours.  As a test, you can pull out a wing bone or rib bone, and snap it in half.  If it breaks easily and seems "dry," then you can be sure that its essence is in the water, where it belongs.

When it's done, the fun begins!  Use a kitchen spider, strainer, or a set of tongs to remove the solids.  Note that if you'd had a giant steamer bucket that fits into your stock pot, that you should have used it so this step would have been super easy... the liquid that remains is pure gold.  Literally, it should be a beautiful gold color.  Let it cool a bit (30 minutes or so) and then pour it through a cheese-cloth or a fine mesh strainer.  I find that it's easiest to do this by ladling it through a strong paper towel, directly into mason jars, or into small Tupperware containers.  Put your stock into the fridge, and in the morning each jar will have a thin white disk of pure fat on top.  Pluck this off and discard at will (or spread it onto a Pig's Ear sandwich, like my grandfather Arles used to do).
The gooey stuff left in the jar is invaluable!  Keep them in the freezer until ready to use.  Some people pour it into ice-cube trays and freeze them, so they can easily pop out a few when they make soup or whatever.

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