I don’t know why more people don’t make stock. Yes, stock cubes are easy, and yes, they add a ‘tastiness’ to food. They change water into flavour, but they also make everything taste a little bit the same.
I worked in a restaurant for a while whose head chef was hooked on stock cubes. No matter what we made, she would add a little bit to the mix. I think her taste buds were reliant on that zingy stock cube flavour, because it was quite clear to us other cooks that the dish tasted great without it. In fact, the stock cube masked all the subtle flavour interplays already going on.
So let’s start a renaissance in stock making. If you haven’t made stock even once in your life, this is a challenge for you as much as for those of you out there who’ve forgotten how good real stocks are. We’ll start at the easiest of stocks and work our way up to the more complex ones.
To begin with, old fashion chicken stock.
Step 1. Use Top Quality Ingredients
You won’t find a pot full of bones, picked over roasted chicken carcasses or stale wilted vegetables here. One of the key lessons I learnt from Judy Rogers in her Zuni Café Cookbook was to put into stock the flavours you want in your stock. If you make stock with bones and stale vegetables, what’s it going to taste like? BONES AND STALE VEGETABLES.
Choosing an organic, free range chicken is essential (and I will talk about this in another post soon), but the age of the bird is more flexible. If you have an old hen, that’s fine. She’ll be very flavoursome. The final choice of accompanying vegetables, herbs and spices really depend on what you will be using the stock for. That’s why the recipe below reads more like a set of options:
- 1 well-sourced organic freerange chicken, around 2 kg in weight
- 1 kg extra wings, backs or drumsticks
- Any or some of the following:
- 1-2 carrots, scrubbed and chopped into 1cm circles
- 1-2 outer celery stalks, cleaned, trimmed of most of its leaves and chopped into 1cm pieces
- 3 spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
- An inch of ginger, scrubbed and sliced
- 1 leek, barely trimmed, cut in half, washed very well and cut into 1 cm pieces
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped in quarters
- A few parsley stems
- 8 peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 3-6 whole garlic cloves, smashed to peel
- a mild chilli, chopped in half
Step 2. Carefully prepare the chicken parts. Assuming your chook has already been plucked and gutted, rinse it of any blood both inside and out. This blood would add impurities to your stock and you’d end up doing a lot more skimming. Use the head, neck, heart, gizzards and feet, if you’re lucky enough to have them, but not the liver (this can be saved for other purposes, such as paté).
Step 3. Finding the right sized pot and adding the right amount of water. Find a pot that fits the chook and the extra chicken bits nearly-but-not-quite snugly. Put the chicken in and add just enough cold water to cover. You don’t want there to be too much water around the chook, or you will simple make very weak stock. If you need more stock, you will need to increase the quantity of chicken. Simple.
Step 4. Bring to the boil on medium heat. As the chook comes to the boil, try to keep it at a gentle, consistent, simmer. Don’t ever let it rapidly boil, and try not to let it come off the simmer either. This adjustment will need to be watched for the whole cooking time.
Step 5. Skimming, seasoning and adding vegetables. Skim off any scum with a wide spoon, but try not to skim off fat (which contains lots of flavour). Add a few pinches of sea salt. Once most of the scum is gone, chop and add to the pot any combination of carrots, celery, spring onion, ginger, leek, onion, parsley stems, peppercorns, bay leaves, whole garlic cloves, and chilli. The more you use, the more the broth will taste of veggies. The extent of this flavour balance is, of course, up to you and your vision for the meal you’re making.
Step 6. After 30 or 40 minutes of cooking, take the chook out, remove most of its breast and leg meat, and return the carcass to the pot. This is why it’s important to have extra chicken wings in the pot, as a lot of the meat is being removed early in the stock making. You could leave the chicken in for longer, but you will not have very flavourful meat for a secondary use. If the leg meat isn’t quite cooked, put it back in the broth until it is. Moisten the meat with a little broth, cover and set aside (if it’s anything but a cool day, refrigerate the meat as well).
Step 7. Keep simmering the broth for around two hours more, continuing to occasionally skim any impurities that collect on the surface. (I find this is always easier to do if you let a bit collect together, rather than picking at every bit as it surfaces) After the first hour of simmering, taste the broth every 20 minutes or so, seasoning with a little more salt as you do. (It’s much easier to taste for ‘readiness’ when something’s properly seasoned, and as long as you don’t plan on reducing the stock very much, you won’t over season. But do be aware that some evaporation is, and will continue, to occur).
You want the broth to taste savoury and sweet, a contrast that intensifies as the broth simmers, and then peaks when all the flavour leaves the chicken and enters the broth. If you keep simmering after this point, the broth will taste tired. Judgment of the peak comes with practice. Once the broth’s peaked, don’t let it sit around. Immediately strain it through a fine sieve. Don’t press the bones or the vegetables to squeeze out the juice (this would cloud the broth with bland impurities).
Step 8. Store the stock in the fridge with the fat layer intact. As the stock cools down, the fat will form a layer on the surface, Once the stock is cold and has thickened to a jelly, it will be very easy to scrape and spoon the fat off the top. Feel free to use this as a cooking fat if you like. It’s incredibly flavourful. But now that it’s removed from your stock, the liquid that’s left will be very clean tasting to the palate, with no hint of greasiness.
For a simple soup made from this chicken stock…
Boil some noodles and add these to a bowl of broth, with some freshly cooked carrots, wilted spinach and spring onions. Tear up the reserved chicken flesh and add that too, or save it for chicken sandwiches. In either case, serve with finely chopped parsley and cracked pepper.
If you have any further tips or suggestions for making stock, please let me know in a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
PS. This is my submission to Real Food Wednesday, a great Food Carnival for Wholefood Blogs.