A good chicken stock recipe in your cooking repertoire, is like having a good set of pearls for your wardrobe.
One night, I sat up late and looked through the cookbook, “One Good Dish, the pleasures of a simple meal,” by David Tanis. I used post-it notes to flag recipes that I thought might appeal to my husband, Dan. Dan does like soups lately, and one of the recipes I flagged to try, was for “polentina all toscana,” which, according to Tanis, is a traditional Tuscan soup, he first encountered in Florence. This soup required a base of six cups of chicken stock. Making the soup, polentina all toscana, then became a two day process, the chicken stock being the first step.
When my husband and I went to Florence, I think we were too busy eating pastas, to notice any soups on restaurant menus. One of our own most memorable meals in Florence took place at a restaurant, whose tables formed a square, protected by metal barriers. The eating square, if you would, seemed as if it was almost in the middle of the street. All the better for people watching on a perfect sunny day at lunch time. Amazing to find such good food, relaxed service, and peaceful atmosphere in such a place. It was one of our first meals after arriving in Florence, and we, as new tourists learned that you could get a small carafe of wine, at a cost that was cheaper than the price of sparking water. Even a half carafe of wine seemed like more than enough for we, two, whose capacity at that time was about a glass apiece, without getting tipsy.
The soup, polentina alla toscana called for 6 cups of chicken broth. No where in his recipe does David Tanis refer you to a broth recipe. I guess he figured that it is so basic, one did not need his help in that department. For me, it became an issue of ethics in cooking. Do I make it easy peasy, and use something from the supermarket, like Pacific Organic Free Range Chicken Broth? Or do I make my own broth from scratch?
Dear reader, do weigh in with comments as to which you would choose to do, at this crossroads.
Is making your own chicken stock, the road not taken?
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Well dear reader, I took the road less taken, which required 4 hours of simmering time, for my chicken broth, after the prep, and then waiting time to let the cooked chicken stock cool down, before refrigerating or freezing. Just as they say that the proof is in the pudding, I would say that the taste is in the chicken stock.
- One 5-1/2 pound chicken
- 4 quarts cold water [to cover]
- 1 large carrot (4 ounces), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 stalk celery (1 ounce), leaves trimmed off and cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 large yellow onion (12 ounces), root end trimmed flat, peeled, and quartered
- 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
- Remove the giblets from the chicken, if included. Don't remove the lump of fat you find inside the cavity; it will add flavor.
- Rinse the chicken.
- Remove the breast meat for another use. To remove the breasts, poke the tip of your boning knife flat against the sternum (breastbone), then slide the blade smoothly along its length. Repeat on the other side of the sternum. Feel for the collarbone (which is the wishbone), and cut along its inside contour on both sides of the sternum. Use your fingers to pry the breast muscle away from the carcass on one side of the breast. Then, cutting flat against the bone, use the tip of your knife to gradually free the meat as you tug the breast with the other hand. The breast meat sometimes slips free of its skin as you do this. If so, leave the skin attached to the carcass; it will add flavor to the stock. Repeat with the other breast.
- Next, slash the thigh and leg muscles to encourage the greatest release of flavor during cooking.
- Place chicken in a deep 8- to 10-quart stockpot that holds the chicken snugly. Add the cold water. If 4 quarts of water does not cover the chicken, it is likely your pot is a little too wide - don't add more water. Instead, remove the chicken, cut off the legs at the hip joint, and then replace all the parts in the pot, arranging them so they sit low enough to be submerged. If a stubborn wing still refuses to stay submerged, cut it off as well and then drop it back in the water. (But don't, in this effort to consolidate, resort to cutting through the backbone or breastbone.)
- Bring to a simmer over high heat and skim the foam. Stir the chicken under once - just to allow the last of the foam to rise - reduce the heat, and skim the foam carefully, taking care to leave behind any bright yellow fat that may be staring to appear on the surface.
- Add the vegetables and salt and stir them under.
- Bring back to a gentle simmer and adjust the heat to maintain it. If you taste the water now, you will barely be able to detect the salt.
- Don't cover the pot.
- Maintain the gentle simmer and taste the broth regularly.
- Don't add more water, don't stir, and don't skim the fat, which will gradually form a "cap" on the broth.
- Once the stock has a right, bright chicken flavor, usually in about 4 hours, turn off the heat.
- Leave a minute, to allow the simmer to stop, then pour through a wide strainer. Tipping the hot, heavy pot can be awkward - start by ladling some of the stock through the strainer, enough to make tipping manageable. Or you may choose to fish out the carcass and vegetables as they are gradually exposed.
- I usually strain the stock first through a medium strainer to filter out the obvious solids, then pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer. When we are serving our chicken stock as clear soup or with Stracciatelle or pastina in it, we ladle the strained stock through a clean cotton napkin moistened with water. This broth-soup rarely needs any doctoring.
- Don't discard the cooked bird. Every cook I know loves to nibble on the warm meat from the spent stock chickens - it isn't succulent, having given all it has to the stock, but if you catch it while it is still warm, it is comforting and tasty, especially when you have made the stock with salt. I like it with tarragon vinaigrette or Four-Minute Egg Gribiche....
- Cool the stock to room temperature, then cover tightly and place in the refrigerator. Remove the cap of solidified fat only just before you use the stock - it will keep out some air until then. Because it is lightly salted, this stock will keep for about a week refrigerated, but it is practical to divide it into several smaller containers and freeze right away when you won't need within that time. Fro freezing, use odorless plastic containers with tight-fitting lids that allow room for expansion as ice crystals form. Remove all the fat from the stock first, and make sure the stock is cold when you fill the containers. Thaw frozen stock slowly in the refrigerator or slide from the storage vessel into a pot an smelt over low heat. For the best flavor, don't freeze chicken stock for more than a few weeks.