Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Store bought chicken, home-made stock

I'd like to propose a new category for blog awards -- comment awards. I even have 2 cooks to nominate: Mary and ~M for their insights into making chicken stock. Dear Mary and ~M, if you are reading this post, I'd like to say a huge thanks to both of you. You made me try something I couldn't learn from working in restaurants or culinary school.

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.
Makes 1.5 quarts

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 bayleaf
1 tsp whole peppercorns (unless the chicken looks really peppery)
  1. 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.
  2. Preheat the oven to 225F.
  3. 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.
  4. Add thyme, parsley stems, bayleaf, peppercorns, and any clean onion skins that you saved.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
Storage tips: If your freezer space is at a premium, you can reduce degreased stock up to 4 times by gently simmering it on the stove top for 1-2 hours (depending on how much stock you have) and skimming it periodially. Cool the reduced stock in an ice water bath and pour into tiny containers (baby food containers are perfect for that). Cool completely uncovered in the fridge, then cover and freeze. Some people also like to use ice-cube trays to freeze small amounts of stock for sauces. After your stock freezes, remove the cubes and store them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. I would suggest having an ice-cube tray dedicated to this task since it's very hard to get the smell of the stock out of plastic.


~M said...

I don't know whether to shout and say "woo hoo" or to blush. Thanks, Helen!

Katerina said...

If you have a slow cooker stock works great in that too. (I only get an hour in my kitchen a day, if I am lucky.)

Helen said...

slow cooker is an excellent idea!

By the way, I just used this stock in the sauce class tonight to make pan sauces for duck and steak. Both came out really well. So if you want to have one stock on hand for all your pan sauces, I'd say this is it.

This is not to say that you guys shouldn't try to make a good beef stock, duck stock, etc. If you enjoy cooking and have time to spend in the kitchen, by all means do -- they'll make your sauces even better. But to give up on pan sauces because you can't make the stocks the classic way would be silly.

Taste the Rainbow said...

I am a bit speechless right now, thank you Helen.

I hope your move goes smoothly!

avis said...

This may be a weird question but could you remove the legs/thighs instead of the breast meat and make the stock that way? I cannot stand breast meat.

Helen said...

Hi Avis,

I would keep the legs in the stock. They have much more connective tissue than breasts and will give your stock more body (jelly-ness) and flavor. If you have the breast so much, put them in the stock too :)

I used to think I hate breasts until I learned to cook them correctly. Of course, this doesn't help you with Whole Food chicken whose breasts are hopelessly dry. I usually cut them up and mix with mayo, parsley, and canned tangerine sections. With enough mayo, it's not bad ;)


Anonymous said...

Another great post! I have a vietnamese friend who makes fantastic stocks for Pho - probably their national dish. He uses a Zojirushi thermal pot. Might be a great solution if you don't want to leave the oven on all night. Although it won't "reduce" as the unit is sealed. Peter

Jean Z. said...

~M and Mary's suggestion to use the store bought chicken has been a long-time favorite of mine. I love that idea, too. (Thanks for the idea of the crockpot, Katerina.) I love making stock from Thanksgiving turkey, too, and I actually put a little left over stuffing in the pot, too, to add a new dimension of taste.

soozzie said...

I've been using rotisserie chicken for stock for years. I use the meat for sandwiches or a quick meal (frequently for houseguests when we don't know what we will be doing on any given day). I remove any large chunks of meat and freeze the carcass in one bag, the meat (if not otherwise used) in another. When I have three or four carcasses, I'm off to the stock pot. When the stock is done and strained, I put chunks of the saved meat in, along with whatever veggies are on hand. If there isn't enough of a selection in the market (I live in Maui where veggies are sometimes less than interesting, having made the voyage from the mainland), frozen veggies will do just fine. Superb!

Maureen G said...

Just found (and saved in ) your blog and site- was looking for what to do with the swiss chard I picked up at the CSA.
This blog is Great - fun to read writing and wonderful ideas.
As well as learning new terms – “fond” took a while to Google to the right place
Do you have a link to for other food newbies like me to look up the terms?

Anonymous said...

I love soups but do not really like my own creations! I know I know..homemade is any day better- but not really worth all the trouble, I say!
Sometimes when I do make stocks- I cook the rotiserie chicken bones (store bought, ofcourse) in a pressure cooker. I does give more body (gelatinous from the bones) and has a really dark color. I do not know if it will hold up to steak, duck, etc. But its quick and gives fairly good results.
Another good reason to buy a pressure cooker- besides saving gas and time (specially true whe cooking beans and chickpeas).

Cyn said...

This is a great time-saver for me because I have a 6-year-old plus 2-year-old twins, one of whom requires extra time every day for various therapies. Besides, I don't love the taste of supermarket chicken stock.
I just wondered why you discard the flesh after making the stock. Is there a health reason, or is it simply flavorless?
I ask because I have an aversion to throwing out food. When I was in college, I lived on spaghetti tossed with a chopped fried clove of garlic. I couldn't afford meat, so the idea of throwing out meat is just so ... I don't know. It's hard to do.
I was thinking I could chop up the leftover chicken for a mostly-bean chili. With all the seasoning, you wouldn't notice that the chicken isn't as good as it used to be, would you?
What do you think?

Helen said...

Hi Cyn,

I love your idea of using leftover chicken legs from making the stock. They are not great (most of the moisture and flavor has been sucked out of them at this point), but if you toss them with chili, they might be very edible :)


~M said...

Hi Cyn,

I never throw out the chicken either. I use it in chicken soup (add noodles or rice to carb it up), in chilis, even chicken salads with other strong flavors (balsamic chicken salad with apples, celery, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses being a favorite!). I could also see it with BBQ sauce or casseroles.

Cyn said...

Ok. Just wanted to know if there was a reason for tossing the meat. I agree that by itself it isn't very palatable, but I'm going to try to mix it into some chili. My chili contains mostly black beans, pinto beanss, chopped tomato, grated carrot (and whatever other veggies I can sneak in), tomato paste and a lot of spices, so I think the chicken can hide in there nicely while boosting the protein content.
~M, I'll have to try the BBQ sauce and do something like a pulled-chicken sandwich for my 6 year old because he loves BBQ sauce with his chicken. I bet the BBQ sauce will add enough moisture and disguise the lack of taste sufficiently for him.
Thanks guys!

Anonymous said...

Very cool. I'm all for making stock the "easy way". ;-)