Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Eats Sheet: Chicken Stock

What's the difference between decent chicken soup and really good chicken soup? The stock.

Now, normally, when I want a quick bowl of chicken soup I throw a couple of bullion cubes into boiling water for the stock. But recently, I discovered a much tastier, and less salty way.

C likes to roast a chicken periodically. We'll eat the drumsticks et al. with mashed potatoes Thanksgiving Turkey style and then make a variety of dishes with the leftover meat. Favorites include chicken noodle soup, chicken salad, and white chili. This last time, we decided we would roast a chicken Sunday night and make white chili on Monday. White chili is a great dish that consists of a base of chicken stock either with or without thickener, chopped and/or shredded chicken meat (usually breast), celery, onions, white and black pepper, white beans, some jalapeno or anaheim peppers, and whatever other spices. You top it with cheese, tortilla chips, and cilantro. It's not chili for a chili purist, but its a dang good meal.

So to make white chili, I decided this time to get some of the really good flavor by making a stock from the bones and skin rather than just use the chicken-flavored salt we call bullion. Here's what you do.

1. Roast a chicken.

2. While the chicken is resting, put the roasting pan over medium heat and pour in two cups of hot water. Scrape up all the brown bits and juices from the bottom of the roasting pan and bring it to a boil, continuing to stir and scrape.

3. After about 15 minutes, pour the roasting pan juices into a soup pot.

4. Carve and eat the chicken.

5. Put the bones and skin and any meat that you don't want to eat into the stock pot. Throw in a few sticks of celery, a quartered onion, a couple of carrots, and a few cloves of garlic. Add 2 quarts of water and season with salt, black pepper, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Add any of your other favorite spices.

6. Bring it to a boil and let it boil for 10-15 minutes. Skim off any obvious fat or foam. Then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 2-3 hours.

7. Turn off the heat and pick out the bones. Line a colander with cheese cloth if you have it. Put the colander over a bowl and pour it all through. Fold the cheese cloth over the veggies and stuff left in the colander and press down on them to release the flavor.

8. Let it cool and skim off any obvious fat.

This stock makes any soup that much better. It's way better than canned chicken stock and way way better than bullion. It's a much more complex, robust flavor. You'll find that you don't need to season your soups as much. You can keep it in the fridge for maybe a week, or you can freeze it. You can use it in soups, but it also makes a great braising liquid or a substitute for cooking wine.

One nifty idea from the Dinosaur cookbook is to pour some into an ice cube tray, then pop out the frozen chicken stock cubes and keep them in a bag in the freezer. You can add them to sauces for a flavor boost.

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