Attention, readers: You are in for a treat this post as a special guest blogger shares his stock tips…
Blogs, huh? So THIS is the new revolution?! This is no different from those Angelfire pages we all had during the Clinton years. What a gyp. Still, I’m trying to get better at coping with disappointment, so don’t mind me if I to try to write this post with imaginary knobs and wheels like Tom Cruise in Minority Report (Did you know that Apple took many of the ideas for the iPhone’s multi-touch interface from Minority Report? Perhaps we’re not so far off after all…)
What? Oh, right. Pertinence. Well then, if I’m substituting today, then I’ll be throwing out the teacher’s normal curriculum of, God, I dunno…pink unicorn Anthropologie macaroon pies. Let’s get to basics. Like way back fundamentals basics.
Professional chefs, French folks, and lucky memoirists all refer to stock as the fond de cuisine (which can be roughly translated on the internet). All soups, and stews, many sauces, gravies, risottos, potato gratins, paellas, et al use stock as the base. There are as many kinds of stocks as there are animals whose fat can be boiled out of their bones and flavorized. (Ok, ok, you don’t need animal fats exclusively. But I have a hard time differentiating vegetable stock from the green water that’s left over from steaming asparagus. All those wanting to see a veggie-broth post can grab themselves a Not Dog, sit down and chill.)
If you’re like me—and…cherish the thought—when you see chicken stock in a recipe your mind goes to those Swanson’s cans. But comparing a store bought stock to the real Mccoy is like Wonderbread to freshly baked artisan loaf or Mission to Border Grill’s tortillas, or Octomom to Angelina Jolie. No matter how hard it tries, we’re just not in the same league. Homemade stock usually has a higher fat content and fresher herbs and spices, giving it a deeper, richer flavor.
Above all else, though, what I love about homemade stock is that it’s made from garbage. Unless you’re Ina Garten who curiously uses dozens of freshly slaughtered French game hens in her recipe, this is a dish that should use only scrap ingredients. Never throw away any chicken bones from another dish, or the meat for that matter, or especially the leftover carcass from one of those supermarket rotisseries. Keep them in a bag in the freezer and when you’ve got enough for a batch (or your roommates become alarmed by your enthusiastic carcass hoarding) it’s time.
Same goes for the herb/veggie section. Certain things like bay leaves, celery, and thyme are essential in my opinion, but the rest are a grab bag. This recipe is a great use for garlic that has begun regenerating itself on your counter; also wilted celery, graying rosemary, and forgotten carrots.
On the subject of carrots, this is a bit touchy for me. Carrots, or “devil fingers” as I like to call them, are a personal bane of mine. Their innate sweetness (and evilness) can give a stock a miserable aftertaste. I prefer the bare minimum approach— usually one per stock. I know, I know, that’s ridiculous, but I can’t help it, I’m…racist.
However, I did discover on a recent farmer’s market trip the existence of a mysterious white carrot. According to the bearded root vegetable expert on-hand, carrots are originally white in their native homeland of Afghanistan. It was later when they were brought to The Netherlands that they were made orange so as to “match their queen.” I have no idea how much of the story is true. Either way, these carrots (Pictured here. They are not parsnips) are less sweet but still have that earthy flavor. So, there you go, I guess I’m not racist, I just think white carrots are superior.
Final, last note: Err on the side of less water in making the stock. Logic goes, less water means less diluted means more concentration of favors. An especially good idea if you’re freezing the stock into cubes to use later as a flavor enhancer.
Chicken Stock Adapted from Alton Brown, Good Eats
4 pounds chicken carcasses, including necks and back
1 large onion, quartered
1 carrot, peeled (or three white carrots!)
4 ribs celery, cut in 1/2
1 leek, white part only, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
1-2 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaves
8 to 10 peppercorn
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 gallons cold water
Place chicken, vegetables, and herbs and spices in 12-quart stockpot. Set opened steamer basket directly on ingredients in pot and pour over water. Cook on high heat until you begin to see bubbles break through the surface of the liquid. Turn heat down to medium low so that stock maintains low, gentle simmer. Skim the scum from the stock with a spoon or fine mesh strainer every 10 to 15 minutes for the first hour of cooking and twice each hour for the next 2 hours. Add hot water as needed to keep bones and vegetables submerged. Simmer uncovered for 6 to 8 hours.
Strain stock through a fine mesh strainer into another large stockpot or heatproof container discarding the solids. Cool immediately in large cooler of ice or a sink full of ice water to below 40 degrees. Place in refrigerator overnight. Remove solidified fat from surface of liquid and store in container with lid in refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in freezer for up to 3 months.
So that’s it, blog out or whatever you people are supposed to say at this point. This was surprisingly painless, even dare I think it, fun? Your real teacher will be back next time, of course. But maybe, some other time in the future, if there aren’t too many complaints I might make another rainy day appearance. Oh, and all photo credits go to your regularly scheduled blogger with a contribution by local pirate Travis. They’re the talent here.