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.)


Ed said...

I never actually buy chicken to make chicken stock. I just collect chicken bones in big freezer bags as we go through chickens, and make a big batch of stock once I have three or four carcasses.

Helen said...

Hi Ed,

I just want to clarify that the bones you are talking about are uncooked chicken carcasses (from cutting up your own chicken parts). The stock from cooked bones won't be nearly as flavorful. Using just bones certainly works, but adding actual meat to the stock (specifically legs since breasts are too lean) results in even more flavor.


Anonymous said...

I love the look of the veggie stock recipe. I'm going to try that one.

sudu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sudu said...

I have always bought chicken stock and took pleasure that it was organic and nothing could surpass it- until I made it myself! I must confess it was the laziest way possible (carsass of roast chicken in a pressure cooker for a few minutes) but it was so good! I am going to give your way a sincere try (seriously!) one whole afternoon.

Alex M said...

I find adding jalapeno peppers to a vegetable stock gives it a unique peppery touch, while not overpowering.

Unknown said...

Hi Helen!

I *love* reading your blog. Thanks for always sharing such helpful insights with us. I have a quick Q about chicken broth. Because I prefer the flavor and texture of roasted chicken meat to boiled/simmered chicken meat in my soups, I have been making my chicken stock in a different way: I roast a whole chicken, let it cool, pick the meat off the bones, and use the carcass, along with all of the other pertinent veggies and herbs, to make stock. Later, when I put the soup together, I add the cooked chicken meat back in at the end. I noticed in an earlier comment from you in this thread, you mentioned that using cooked bones to make stock is less flavorful than using uncooked bones. But the conundrum is that I prefer the roasted chicken meat to boiled. Do you have any insights regarding this vexing conundrum? :)

Helen said...

Hi Jennifer,

That's a very thought provoking question.

Let me clarify what I meant about "cooked bones." If you were to take cooked chicken, take all the meat and skin off, and boil the bare bones, you'll get a stock with less flavor and body (less gelatinous consistency) than if you use bones, meat and skin.

The stock I am describing in this post is called white chicken stock in classic French cuisine. The stock you are describing is called brown chicken stock. They taste different and both have their applications. If you like the brown one more, by all means, make that. But keep in mind that in some sauces, risottos, etc, the white stock is more appropriate.


Unknown said...

Thanks for clarifying, Helen! That totally makes sense - two different types of broth, depending on one's taste and/or the specific use for the broth. Perfect!

NRF said...

Great chicken stock is uber-important to pan sauces. I make it in large batches for the freezer but make sure that I use the best ingredients available. For a start, that means no Republican chicken. I shop at a place that sells ethically grown, uncaged free range chicken. They always provide meaty carcasses, whole or parts, at a decent price. Using two large stock pots, I proceed slowly, using heat so low that water barely trembles. When ready, into the fridge overnight to eliminate fat and sediment. Passing through cheesecloth results in clear stock with good color and great taste. Regardless of technique though, high quality poultry is paramount.

Nadira said...

Wow, we are on the same wavelength. I just took a soup class at Persimmon on Sunday and made stock last night.

(Soup class!!! Persimmon!!! I'm still not over it...)

Helen said...

Hi Jess,

Persimmon does classes? That's so cool! What soups did you make and what stocks did he use for each one?


Nadira said...

It was their first class. (And on soup; how could I miss it?) It was a demonstration class, rather than hands-on, but Champe demoed making a light chicken stock (with tips on how to adapt it for a browned chicken stock, veal bones or other animal stocks), a vegetable stock, and an apple stock. We also talked about pureeing (in short: high-speed puree, plus the straining technique you covered on the blog over the summer) and composition techniques (making the basic soup taste as purely of the base ingredients as possible, then adding toppings so the eater can make each bite taste different).

We were sent home with recipes for chicken stock, glazed celery root soup, green pea soup with pea shoots, and an apple soup.

They're planning to do them every month or so. I don't think I can make it down to RI every time, but they were a ton of fun.

I'm also looking forward to sauce and the city as soon as a space opens up@

Steve said...


Found your blog a little late ... lots of good stuff here!

In the past year, I've re-discovered the pleasures of stock making -- with a difference. The flavours really shine through when the veggies are not subject to long slow cooking.

After watching Heston Blumenthal make chicken stock on 'In Search of Perfection' I pensioned off my battered stockpot and bought a large pressure cooker. It couldn't be quicker or easier:

1) Chicken pieces into pressure cooker, cover with water, bring to the boil uncovered.

2) Pour off most of the water to get rid of blood and scum top layer.

3) Add clean water to cover, clamp lid. Pressure cook for one hour.

4) Release pressure by running cool water over lid.

5) Mince onions/carrots/etc in food processor. (Geek alert: increased surface area = better flavour extraction). Add to pressure cooker.

6) Clamp lid and pressure cook for another 30 mins at most.

7) Release pressure, cool, filter stock through fine sieve, etc

The taste is quite special: clean, simple flavours with the veggies and herbs distinct and un-muddied.

It was as much a revelation as Anrew Carmellini's Basic Tomato Sauce in 'Urban Italian'. He cooks the garlic/basil/red pepper flakes in a little olive oil, separately from the slowly reduced tomatoes. By adding the flavoured oil right at the end, the tomatoes and aromatics preserve their identities. A noticeable improvement over the boil-it-all-up-together tradition!

Hope you write more - really enjoying the blog.