I've been slowly coming to a painful realization that one always needs to have some home-made stock on hand. The problem is not with me having it on hand -- I work from home and can make stock any time -- the problem is with my students having home-made stock on hand. 3 years ago, I had a normal office job and remember waking up at 6am to beat the traffic and not getting home till 7pm. I can deeply sympathize with all you guys who love to cook, but get to see your kitchen for only an hour a day. Asking a busy professional to make stock the traditional way is like asking a restaurant chef to check e-mail once an hour. Neither task is rocket science, but making stock is hard if you are not normally at the stove and checking e-mail is hard if you are not normally at the computer.
That's where Mary's and ~M's comments came in so handy. Mary buys a rotisserie chicken, takes off the breast meat and makes a stock out of the rest of the chicken by adding water and vegetables. After simmering for 2 hours, she strains it and uses it for soup. What I thought was particularly appealing about this method is eliminating an hour of work to roast the chicken and wash the roasting pan. Of course, one can also make stock out of fresh rather than roasted chicken. That's the blond stock I wrote about earlier. But when the chicken is not roasted, it produces enormous amount of scum that needs to be painstakingly skimmed and I was hoping to skip this step.
One day, I bought a roasted chicken from Whole Foods and tried this approach. The wonderful thing about a Whole Foods chicken was that it was very modestly salted. That's usually something I hate about their prepared foods, but in this case, it was an asset. The salt in the stock was not noticable and it could withstand good bit of reducing just like any home-made stock. The finished stock had a lovely chicken flavor and light color making it a great choice for soups -- WAY better than out of the box at about the same price.
Unfortunately, when I tried to use this stock in pan sauces, the results weren't as spectacular as in soups. It lacked the body (jelatinous quality) and color of a good brown stock, which still left me with a quandary of what to tell my students to deglaze the pan with after searing a steak? We usually use home-made beef stock in class (I reduce it into demi-glace to make it easier to store in my freezer). Not wanting to discourage my students from making pan sauces at home, I told them that there is nothing wrong with using water, but after trying that in class one time, I realized that I need a better option. Mary's stock was definitely better than water, but still not rich enough to stand up to a steak.
That's when ~M's comment came in handy. She tried making a stock overnight with the fond left from roasted chicken. I was wondering if this long simmer could make Mary's stock richer. I decided to try it with a couple of my own color and flavor boosters. Instead of throwing in the vegetables raw, I browned them in a bit of olive oil first right in the stock pot. I also used a very small amount of water (2.5 quarts per chicken) compared to my first experiment (4 quarts per chicken). After the stock came to a simmer, I put it in 200F oven and went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, the house smelled really good. I got my stock out of the oven and strained. Would you look at that -- dark brown color, and wonderfully intense aroma.
I was worried that it might be too salty to reduce. But after I tasted it straight, it still needed plenty of salt, so I have a feeling it's safe to reduce it at least in half. This stock was slightly more expensive than store bought versions, but absolutely incomporable in terms of taste. It is also one of the few methods that allows you to get home late after work, spend 20 minutes in the kitchen on your stock before going to bed and let it do it's thing for 8 hours.
I realize of course, that dark chicken stock is still not beef stock. But it's a huge leap forward compared to a store bought stock (chicken or beef) or plain old water. I have also been thinking of ways to beef it up some. One idea is to sear a beef shank in the stock pot before adding the vegetables and chicken. This wouldn't add more than 10 minutes to the process and would avoid a whole separate roasting pan and 40 minutes of roasting for the beef. I would also consider stirring a few teaspoons of tomato paste into the vegetables before adding water.
My work here is definitely not done, but it's a start. If you only have one hour a day to spend in the kitchen, don't despare. You too can cook with good stocks.
Brown Chicken Stock (the easy way)
- Buy the plainest rotisserie chicken for this recipe (not herb, lemon, garlic, or teriyaki).
- This stock is very intense, but storing it in this concentrated state takes up less space in the freezer. For sauces, use as is; for soups, you can dilute it with water if desired.
- This recipe is for a 4 quart pot and one chicken, but it can be easily doubled if you have an 8 quart pot. That would be a better use of your oven, but you'll need more freezer space to store the results.
2 tsp olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 celery stick, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into 2/3 inch wedges (save any clean peels)
1 rotisserie chicken (from Whole Foods or some other low salt specimen)
2.5 quarts water
7 thyme sprigs
7 large parsley stems
1 tsp whole peppercorns (unless the chicken looks really peppery)
- Start the stock 30 minutes before going to bed (unless you'll be able to check on it in 7-8 hours). Set a 4 quart heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil. When the oil is hot and shimmery, add the carrot, celery, and onion. Let the vegetables brown for a few minutes, then stir. Let them brown on the other side, then stir again. Keep cooking until they are golden all over, keeping a close eye on them, but not stirring too often (too much stirring prevents them from coloring), 7-10 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 225F.
- Take the breast meet off the chicken and save for another use. Break up the rest of the chicken into legs, wings, and 2-3 pieces of carcass. Add it to the stock pot. If you are not planning to use the breast meat with the skin, add the breast skin to the pot as well. Add 2.5 quarts cold water and bring to a simmer slowly keeping the pot uncovered. Keep a close eye on it and don't let it boil. As soon as the water is at the gentlest simmer, turn down the heat to medium-low. Skim the foam that rises to the top.
- Add thyme, parsley stems, bayleaf, peppercorns, and any clean onion skins that you saved.
- Place the pot in the middle of the oven uncovered and go to bed. 7-8 hours later (when you wake up), get the pot out of the oven and strain the stock into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the chicken and vegetables. Set the bowl in a bigger bowl of ice-water and chill while you shower and get ready for work, 20-30 minutes.
- Pour the stock into containers being careful to leave the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. You want to use the tallest containers you have to make skimming fat easier. I use the plastic containers you get at Whole Foods when you buy bulk or prepared foods.
- Carefully set the uncovered containers in the fridge and let them cool completely while you are at work. When the stock is completely cold (after 8-12 hours), remove the fat from the top with a spoon. Your stock is ready to use. Keep whatever you plan to use within 5 days in the fridge. Pour the rest into smaller containers and freeze for later use (it's best within 2 months, but is perfectly usable within a year).