March 2008: The stock pot before boiling, so pretty! You'll notice the presence of scallions, although the recipe doesn't call for them. Nowadays I just try to keep two "stock bags" going in my freezer: one for chicken bones, one for veggie bits I'd normally discard while cooking--like carrot ends, parsley stems, unused onion halves, and these scallion tops from a recipe that only called for the white ends. Then when my chicken-broth supply runs low, I can just dump the contents of the two bags into the pot, add water and the necessary extras, and start it a-boilin'. A truly economical way to get a little more use out of your food before it goes to the trash.
My First Chicken Stock. I finally had a chicken carcass to work with, so I figured I should give this a shot. Then I’ll have chicken broth on hand in the freezer whenever I need it, thereby freeing myself from my dependence on Swanson’s canned broth. Not that I use a lot of broth in my cooking, but I bet I’d be more likely to if I had good, homemade broth available. Plus, someday it will supposedly get cold (or cooler, anyway) and I’ll want to make soup. Not to mention there’s nothing cozier than an aromatic pot simmering away on the stove. So, last night while waiting for onions to caramelize for a really good pasta sauce, I decided to go for it.
I probably had half a dozen different stock recipes in different cookbooks in the house, but Martha Rose Schulman’s in Ready When You Are won out, with some good ingredients the others didn’t have—garlic, peppercorns, leeks. In addition to my cooked chicken carcass from last week’s roasted chicken, I also had a raw neck, 2 raw wings, and some cooked carcass bits in the freezer from the Greek Chicken of two weeks ago. The cool thing about making stock is that you can throw in whatever you’ve got! I can’t give you a verdict on how it turned out, since it’s still sitting in my refrigerator waiting for me to skim off the fat, but expect me to post several recipes involving chicken broth next week. In the meantime, I can say that it was easy to make and it smelled incredible. I feel that with the acquisition of this very basic cooking skill, I’ve somehow advanced to another level. Now (sigh) I just need to learn to bake.
POSTSCRIPT MARCH 2006: This has become my habitual chicken-broth recipe. It's easy and tastes great. I usually skip the leek, unless I happen to have one handy, and I NEVER make the bouquet garni. I did find some cheesecloth at the grocery store for straining the stock, and it works great.
Fresh or cooked carcass of a chicken, plus 4 wings if desired; or 1 whole chicken, cut up; or 3 pounds chicken legs and thighs
4 medium carrots, thickly sliced
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
Optional: 1 leek, white and light green part only, cleaned and thickly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 bay leaf
a couple sprigs of fresh thyme
a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1. Martha notes, “If you’re using a fresh chicken carcass, crack the bones slightly with a hammer.” (This sounds like fun, but I've never done it--I usually use whatever's left over from my cooked chickens.) Put the chicken in a large soup pot.
2. Add the carrots, onions, leek (if using), and garlic. Martha says to make a “bouquet garni” out of the herbs--you can just tie the bay leaf, thyme, and parsley together with string, or you can tie them inside the dark green outer leek leaf if you’re using a leek. Martha does confess in her introduction to the recipe, “I don’t always tie together my bay leaf, thyme, and parsley sprigs into a bouquet garni. Why should I? The broth is going to be strained anyway.” Right on! Now that’s the kind of honest, clever, lazy thinking I like to see in my cookbook writers. Anyway, add the bouquet garni OR the loose herbs to the pot, along with the peppercorns.
3. Fill the pot with water, covering the contents by one inch (i.e, the water level should be one inch higher than everything else in the pot). Bring it to a boil, skimm off the foam that rises to the top, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot partially with the lid, and simmer it for 2-4 hours.
4. Strain the broth “through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a large bowl or pot.” If you don't have cheesecloth, you can use a clean piece of fabric (such as a kitchen towel) instead, or you can just use a plain strainer if you don't mind a cloudier broth. Discard everything that ended up in the strainer (goodbye, noble chicken! You served us well), and put the pot full of broth in the refrigerator, uncovered. Leave it there for several hours or preferably overnight.
5. When the waiting period is over, a layer of fat will be floating on the surface Lift off the fat, using either a slotted spatula or a "skimmer." (What’s a skimmer, I wonder?) Strain the stock again, “through a fine-mesh strainer or a cheesecloth-lined medium strainer.” Chill the broth for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.
Makes: 2½ quarts
Time: 2-4 hours to cook, plus several hours (or overnight) to settle