A good stock is the foundation of soups, stews, sauces, and most braising foods. Georges-Auguste Escoffier, the father of twentieth century cuisine, considered the greatest chef of all time, thought of stocks as the most important element of his kitchen. However, in modern home kitchens stocks have taken a secondary role. More home cooks are turning to store bought stocks or broths. We live in a “thirty-minute meals” society and people do not want to be bothered with the long cooking times needed to develop deep complex flavors.
Stock can be defined as a clear, thin liquid flavored by soluble substances extracted from poultry, fish, meat, their bones, and seasonings. The goal of the exercise is to combine the right ingredients in order to produce the desired flavor base. Countless dishes use stocks as a starting point; risotto jumps to mind. How can they be taken for granted in today’s kitchens? Well, I am much more interested in solutions than problems. In this piece I will attempt to show how far one pot of chicken stock can go for the busy home cook. To the food police, I am quite versed on the traditional methods for making stocks, right down to the clarifying rafts. With that said, I am endeavoring to show the home cook a different way of attacking stocks; please save your snide comments. Likewise, if you have an aversion to long cooking times, attention to detail, or process, please stop reading.
Bones are the major ingredients of stocks. The flavor and body developed in stocks come from the bones of beef, lamb, chicken, veal, fish, or game, with the obvious exception of veggie stocks which contain no animal products. When collagen, or connective tissues, break down they form gelatin and this is what gives a stock body. In reality, when a well made stock is chilled it should be solid. Cartilage is the best source of gelatin in bones. For the purposes of this stock I used whole organic chicken legs. Joints of major bones have much cartilage and are treasured for stock making. Stocks are not kitchen bins; use only top-notch quality, organic, wholesome ingredients. I am a firm believer in seasoning every layer of a dish. Properly seasoning your stock from the beginning of the cooking process leaves you with less to worry about down the line.
Homemade Chicken Stock
3 lbs of organic chicken legs
Onion – medium dice
Carrots – medium dice
Celery – medium dice
Leek – medium chop
2 Yukon gold potatoes – medium dice
Whole Black peppercorns
2 tbs Better Than Bouillon chicken base
Note: The ratio of veggies is up to the discretion of the cook; tailor to your palate preferences.
Place the chicken in a glass bowl. Cover with a combination of equal parts Wondra flour, smoked pimenton, and curry powder. Heat safflower oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the chicken legs and brown on both sides. Remove to a wire rack to rest.
In a stockpot, add safflower oil. Sweat the onions, carrots, celery, leeks, and potatoes. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken legs to the pot. Cover with enough water. Spoon in the chicken base. Add the herb bundle and black peppercorns. Keep the stock at JUST BELOW BOILING, but do not have it at a rolling boil.
After 2 hours, the connective tissues will naturally break down. At this time, remove the chicken legs and scrape off all the meat clean. This is the first dish that my stock yielded, a perfectly poached chicken salad.
Poached Chicken Salad with Frisee and Ginger Carrot Vinaigrette
Back to the stock. Cut the bones into three-inch pieces to expose as much surface area as possible, to aid the extraction of cartilage. Return the bones to the stockpot. From here the stock will continue to cook at a constant temperature for eight hours. Skim the stock frequently; this is a tedious but imperative thing to do to remove all the impurities that float to the top. If the stock reduces too much, add water to keep the bones covered. Strain the stock through a China cap lined with several layers of cheesecloth.
Once it is cooked and strained, the next pivotal step is to properly cool and store it. I cannot begin to encapsulate the correct procedure for personal hygiene and sanitation; that will be the subject of another article. However, you must properly cool the stock before placing into your refrigerator. Stocks are good breeding grounds for bacteria that cause food-borne disease and spoilage. To prevent this we do what is called the two-step cooling method. Place the strained stock into smaller containers. Use an ice water bath to quickly drop the temperature of the stock. As the stock cools, more impurities will float to the top; skim the surface. This will ensure a leaner finished product. The food danger zone is between 135 F and 41 F; this is the optimal temperature range which bacteria thrive. It is critical to drop the temperature of your stock to 70 F within two hours maximum. The second stage is to get it below 41 F within four hours max. Once the stock is at 41 F you can cover it and place in the refrigerator. Stocks will keep covered in the fridge for two days. Another option is to place the stock in ice cube trays, freeze then, and transfer to freezer bags. Stocks can be frozen for several months.
The following two dishes were both created with the chicken stock.
Risotto with Organic Parmigiano and Oyster Mushrooms
Udon Noodles with Beech Mushrooms and Sea Beans