Homemade > Store-Bought, the Chicken Stock Edition

8 Dec

late.oct.nov2012 066

Yes, Virginia, there IS real food somewhere in there! This lovely little display of ooey-gooey chicken guts-ness, veggies and aromatics will eventually become one of my favorite cooking items in the world — chicken stock. Simple, versatile, and capable of enriching even the simplest of recipes, chicken stock (or turkey stock, or heck, even veggie stock, which is just as easy to make and totally vegetarian / vegan) is the backbone of that “Mmmm, this tastes like something my Grandma made” flavor. If you’re looking for homey nostalgia in a dish, this is your (no longer a big) secret weapon.

But how does one concoct one’s own chicken stock, other than buying grocery store stock and stealthily pouring it into a pot / stashing the carton before your unwitting dinner guests notice? Here’s the kicker: It’s totally not difficult at all! In fact, in the grand tradition of all things “low and slow,” it couldn’t be a simpler process. In brief: bones/ remains of a meat product + water + mirepoix/soffrito veggies (carrots, onions, celery) + a few herbs = stock, when cooked over the stove at a low, steady temperature. Apart from buying those little pre-made stock jellies that Marco Pierre White is hocking on TV now, this is as easy as rich, flavorful cooking can be.

First, I’ll share basic instructions for chicken stock, including how to get the most (er, the greatest amount of bones) from a rotisserie chicken or T-Givs turkey carcass. Then, I’ll recommend a few of the basic uses for stocks, as well as creative tricks I’ve picked up and researched along the way. Enjoy the poultry goodness!

Homemade Chicken or Turkey Stock — makes between 2 and 4 cups of stock, ish. Measurements are pretty flexible here.

You’ll need:

  • Carcass of one or two rotisserie chickens, or carcass of one leftover Thanksgiving turkey (skip if making veggie stock)
  • 3/4 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3-4 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 tsp-ish parsley (dried) or 1 tbsp parsley (fresh)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Water
  • NOTE: If making vegetarian stock, double or triple amount of vegetables. You can also add additional veggies, up to 2 additional cups, of your choice. Mushrooms & peppers are good additions, but you can get creative.

Here’s what you do:

  • To prep the bones, strip the chicken carcass of its meat, fat and skin. This can be tricky (especially with smaller birds), and it won’t harm the stock if a little meat is left on the bones. Place additional meat in Tupperware or a plastic bag for later use.
  • Add the bones to a large stock pot (any pot you’d use to cook a pound of pasta is fine). Top with veggies, herbs, and salt & pepper. Add enough water to cover the bones & veggies by an extra inch or two.
  • Heat this poultry potion on medium high heat until boiling steadily. Then, lower the heat and simmer for several hours. Up to 3 or 4 will give you excellent, concentrated flavor, but I’ve gotten respectable stocks from about an hour and a half of simmering when I’m low on time. If the amount of stock gets too low, lower the heat slightly and add a lid / cover to your pot to avoid further evaporation of moisture.
  • Taste as you go! This will ensure the stock has your desired flavor.
  • When you reach the point of optimal tastiness, turn off the heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove larger bones and veggies from the stock; then, pour the stock through a mesh strainer over another pot or large bowl to remove tinier bones and remnants.
  • At this point, you can either pick additional meat from the remaining bones or discard them if not much is usable. As for the veggies, either save them for immediate use in Chicken / Turkey Soup, or discard.
  • To store your stock, I recommend pouring it into smaller plastic containers (basic Gladware or Tupperware is fine) and freezing until needed for soups or other recipes. Or, use it right away in any of the recipe ideas below.
Remains of the stock. Ewwww. (Tasty "ewww," but a little gross nonetheless.)

Remains of the stock. Ewwww. (Tasty “ewww,” but a little gross nonetheless.)

"I love stock, stocky stock stock." -- Ron Burgundy, sort of.

“I love stock, stocky stock stock.” — Ron Burgundy, sort of.

Professional chefs will simmer their stocks for hours on end; realistically, however, this is tough for the every-day budding chef to manage. That’s why I recommend only heating the stock for 3 or 4 hours, and that’s only if you have the time to spare on a leisurely weekend afternoon or a low-maintenance weeknight. Don’t feel bad if your stock can’t park it on the stovetop for hours upon hours. Even if the spirit of Thomas Keller is judging you, somewhere, somehow, you’re fine. (Or maybe that’s just my own personal nightmare … )

A few ideas for using your stock:

  1. First, and most obviously: Chicken or turkey soup.This bidness makes the best soup broth you’ve ever tasted — way better than its canned brethren could even hope to do. Use the stock as the base for your soup, adding veggies (simple carrots, onion & celery are fine — you can retrieve the stock veggies for this, or briefly steam and add new ones), pre-cooked protein (the leftover chicken or turkey meat is really optimal here) and a few additional spices or surprises. Add curry powder, peas, and steamed cauliflower for a slightly Indian kick, or diced tomatoes, oregano, basil & a sprinkle of Parmesan for an Italian zuppa surprise.
  2. Flavor OTHER kinds of soup: Steam 1 butternut squash by dicing it, placing the chunks in a microwave-safe container, covering with plastic wrap / its matching lid, and cooking on HIGH for 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, add 1 tbsp butter and 1/2 chopped onion to a saucepan and heat on medium. When the onions are “sweating” (moist and translucent, but not overly browned), add the cooked squash, 1 tsp sage, 1 tsp poultry seasoning, salt & pepper. Stir well. Add 1-2 cups stock (depending on how liquidy / thick you like your soup), and heat on medium for 20-30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to blend up the soup mixture in the pot for several minutes (or less, if you like your soup chunkier), or carefully pour the mixture into a regular blender and whip that poor sucker-of-a-soup until it begs for mercy. Serve hot or at room-temperature with a  dollop of sour cream, a drizzle of olive oil and some S & P. Drool.
  3. Use in place of liquid in slow-cooker recipes: You may want to check individual recipe directions for this one, but when concocting recipes like slow cooker chili or stew, experiment with replacing any required water with either a water-stock mixture or entirely stock. You’ll be amazed by the difference in flavor. (I also use beer for this same purpose occasionally, with generally awesome results.)

What are your favorite uses for chicken or turkey stock? Are you beef stock people, or totally vegetarian? What about store-bought stocks: Which brands are your favorites in a time crunch? (A good number of these are really delicious and totally not shame-worthy to use in your cooking.) Happy eating, and happy stock-experimenting!

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