Friday, February 13, 2009

Chicken and Vegetable Stocks

There is no better way to turn a piece of seared protein into a fabulous meal than a pan sauce. It's also a good way to reduce how much scrubbing you'll have to do while washing your skillet. Here is how it works. Instead of staring at the brown bits on the bottom of your skillet after you sear your meat or poultry and wondering how much steel wool scrubbing you'll have to do to get them off, you use those delicious brown bits (called the fond) to your advantage. Feeding them to steel wool is a sin in my book. All you need is a little liquid to deglaze ("unstick" in plain English) those brown bits and turn them into a sauce. Boil the liquid in the skillet to reduce it and concentrate the flavor. Take the skillet off heat, and whisk in a chunk of butter. Voila -- you have a sauce!

I am such a strong proponent of pan sauces, that I will suggest you deglaze with plain water if you don't have anything better on hand. But for a truly fabulous sauce, you'll need a home-made stock. If you are Judy Rodgers, the author of the Zuni Cafe cookbook, and my new culinary heroine, you'll use chicken stock for chicken dishes, duck stock for duck dishes, squab stock for squab dishes, pork stock for pork dishes, etc. I am sure it provides the most intensity and clarify of flavor just as she claims. But let's get real. I am lucky if I have any sort of home-made stock on-hand, let alone the one that perfectly matches my protein.

Next week, I am teaching my first Sauce and the City class, so I thought this is a perfect time to finally write down my recipes for chicken and vegetable stocks. I usually try to have one or the other on hand for making soups and sauces. They are quite different, but both have their advantages.

Chicken stock

Start to finish cooking time: 6 hours
Pros: gives the sauces great body due to the high natural gelatin content
Cons: takes a long time to make, requires skimming
Yield: about 3.5 quarts

If you are going through the trouble to make your own chicken stock, make a ton and freeze it. This recipes yields 3.5-4 quarts, which lasts me about a month. Adding a little bit of salt to this stock helps it keep in the fridge for up to a week, especially if you leave a layer of fat on top to seal it (the fat should be removed before using stock).

3 Lb chicken backs
4.5 Lb chicken legs
4 quarts water
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
2 yellow onions, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
2 celery ribs, cut into 2 inch chunks
6 parsley stems (leaves removed)
6 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 tsp table salt (2 tsp Diamond crystal kosher salt)
  1. Remove any remaining giblets from the chicken backs, but don't remove any fat or skin. Rinse under cold water to remove any blood (no need to rinse the legs). Make 4-6 slashes in each leg to help release flavor. Put all chicken parts in an 8-quart stock pot, add the water, cover the pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the stock starts to simmer, uncover the pot.
  2. Turn down the heat so that the stock is simmering gently. Periodically, skim the foam that will rise to the top for the next 20-30 minutes. Do not skim the fat, just the foam. The fat will give your stock great flavor and you can easily remove it once the stock is chilled.
  3. After 20 minutes of skimming, add the salt and stir under once to help the last of the foam rise.
  4. When no more foam is rising (or only a trivial amount), add the carrots, onions, celery, parsley stems, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Simmer gently regulating heat as necessary for 5 hours (or at least 3 hours).
  5. Take off heat, cool slightly, then strain through a colander into a large bowl to remove the bones. I tend to ladle the stock into the colander to avoid the big splash when the bones fall out of the pot. Once most of the stock and bone are in the colander, I tip the rest in.
  6. Pour the stock through a fine mesh sieve into containers and set in the fridge uncovered to cool overnight. I like to use a mix of 2 and 4 cup bulk food plastic containers that you get at Whole Foods and other stores.
  7. Once the stock is completely chilled and the fat has solidified, decide what you want to keep in the fridge for use that week and what you want to freeze. Keep the fat on the containers you'll use that week and remove it right before using. Remove the fat from containers you plan to freeze. You can warm up degreased stock slightly (it becomes jelly like after chilling and you need to liquify it) and pour it into ice-cube trays for freezing. This is convenient for sauces. Cover all the conatiners and keep in the fridge or freezer.
  8. If you plan to serve the stock as clear soup, you might want to strain it one more time after degreasing and before serving through a sieve lined with a damp paper towel to clarify it.
The question always arises about what to do with the leftover chicken legs. They are not great after such a long simmer, but not bad either. I end up deboning them, then tossing with walnuts, cilantro, lemon or lime juice, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and you have a nice little salad for lunch. Also great in a sandwich. Dijon mustard makes a good accompaniment.

Vegetable stock
Start to finish cooking time: 1.5 hours
Pros: short cooking time; tastes even better in vegetable soups than chicken stock
Cons: doesn't give pan sauces the same body as chicken stock
Yield: about 1.5 quarts

My vegetable stock is an adaptation of Cook's Illustrated recipe (you might need an account to follow this link). The original is fabulous, but I can never bring myself to buy a dozen vegetables and just throw them into stock. I usually end up skipping cauliflower, collard greens, scallions and lemon grass. But the idea of caramelizing some of the vegetables before adding water is a great one. Your stock will have much more flavor than if you just boil the vegetables . It is important to use a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stockpot so that the vegetables caramelize properly without burning.

2 medium onions (about 12 ounces), peeled and chopped coarse
10 - 12 cloves garlic , from 1 head, each clove peeled and smashed
1 small carrot , peeled and chopped coarse
1 rib celery , chopped coarse
8 large shallots (about 8 ounces), sliced thin
2 tsp canola oil
4 large leeks , white and light green parts only, chopped coarse, and cleaned (about 5 1/2 cups)
stems fresh parsley without leaves (from 1 bunch)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
8 - 10 sprigs fresh thyme
8 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  1. Combine onions, garlic, carrot, celery, and shallots, in heavy-bottomed, 8-quart stockpot or Dutch oven; add the oil, a generous pinch of salt, and toss to coat. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until pan bottom shows light brown glaze, 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Add leeks and increase heat to medium; cook, covered, until leeks soften, about 10 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups hot water and cook, partially covered, until water has evaporated to a glaze and vegetables are very soft, 25 to 35 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, bring 8 cups water to a boil.
  3. Add parsley stems, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and the boiling water. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently, partially covered, to blend flavors, about 30 minutes.
  4. Strain stock through large strainer into 2-quart bowl or container, allowing stock to drip through to drain thoroughly (do not press on solids). Stir vinegar into stock. (Stock can be covered and refrigerated up to 4 days or frozen up to 2 months.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Quince "preserve"

I used to think that home-made preserves were for people who like sterilizing jars and have the patience to wait 6 months to taste something they've made. I am no such person. I need immediate gratification and am not very good at following complex procedures to the letter. So, you won't be surprised that it took me this long to finally make a preserve. What did I make? A quince preserve, and let me tell you -- I am hooked. Have you ever had membrillo -- the quince paste that is served with Manchego cheese in Spain? This is even better. I mean, it's better than the store bought membrillo (even though I love that stuff). Though I just found Elise's home-made membrillo recipe, which sounds very tempting.

But let's get back to the preserve. I am not sure if it technically qualifies as a "preserve," since I didn't preserve it. I simply cooked quince with sugar, put it in a jar, and let it sit in my fridge until we ate it all. That didn't take long (2 weeks at most). It tastes incredible with almost any cheese. My personal favorite is bucheron blanc (mild goat cheese from Loire). It's also delicious on toast for breakfast, with prosciutto, with yogurt, with ice-cream, and straight out of the jar.

If you have more will power than we do, and don't gobble up the entire jar in a few weeks, it can happily live in your fridge at least for a month (likely even longer) since the generous amount of sugar in this mixture acts as a preservative.

Quince "preserve"

4 medium quince, cored, and cut into 1/3 inch dice (about 6 cups total)
2/3 cup sugar
Squirt of fresh lemon juice (if needed)

Put the quince and sugar in a heavy 2-qt saucepan and set over medium-heat. Bring to a simmer stirring occasionally. The quince will release its juices. They'll mix with the sugar and form a syrup. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. You'll notice the color change from golden to redish amber. Taste the preserve and add a squirt of lemon juice to brighten up the flavor if needed. Cool completely. Store in a clean (doesn't need to be sterilized) jar in the fridge.