The Basics III: Stock

Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A good full bodied chicken stock is one of the best things to have in your freezer. It gives character and savour to dishes made with beans and vegetables and can be used to turn a couple handfuls of rice or noodles into a quick meal.

The hardest part of making chicken stock is figuring out where the 'chicken' part is going to come from. One of my first jobs after moving away from home was at KFC and we used to debone the leftover chicken to make salad. I would take the bones home and brown them and make the best stock of my life. If you have splurged on a roast chicken and have a leftover carcass, you are all set. Locally, the price of 'necks and backs' chicken packages at grocery stores is ridiculously high (and besides, this is the part of the chicken that almost always has bits of raw lung clinging to it, which I don't enjoy cleaning off). I often can find reasonably priced stewing chickens - sometimes labeled 'old chicken' - either at Lucky 97 downtown or in the freezer at Jia Hua, aka Chinese Superstore. I am also going to try my luck at pestering some local meat departments for bones.

You should brown the bones or stewing chickens in the oven for maximum flavour. An enamel roaster is ideal for getting good brown drippings. (This is the main reason I only roast chicken or pork in enamel; it gives the best colored gravy.) This should be done in a medium oven, about 350 deg Fahrenheit, and uncovered. Once they are brown and fragrant, turn the oven down, fill the roaster with water and add a few stalks of inner leaves of celery, onions, peppercorns, and some salt. A few clean onion skins are great for adding colour. Leftover carrots or parsley or other vegetables can also go in, but be cautioned that strong flavoured vegetables like cabbage or garlic will change the character of the stock. Also keep in mind that the stock should be about the chicken and not the seasonings; you want to salt and season the dishes you make with it more than the stock. Leave the stock to simmer in the oven, which you have turned down to about 300 degress, for at least 3 hours. You can make extra in the crock pot or stove top if you have a lot of bones. The stock should not boil, just simmer. When stock is ready, cool slightly and strain into ziplock bags or yogourt containers.

The freezer on top of your fridge and its contents are not happy to deal with a large quantity of hot liquid all at once. If you don't want ice crystals in your ice cream it is best to store the stock in the fridge until it is cold and then put it in the freezer. If you have a big freezer this is less of a problem.

Update....chicken feet work great for this and make a stock that turns to jelly when chilled.