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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Taking Stock of Stock

I always buy my chickens whole.  If I'm roasting it...well, I leave it whole.  With other preparations, I cut it up.  There are advantages to buying whole chickens.  They are cheaper.  You know where all the pieces came from, and there is someting to be said about that.  The biggest resaon, I believe, is that when you cut them up yourself, you have all kinds of parts to throw in the freezer for a future stock.  At any given time I will have a bag of backs, necks, and wing tips in the freezer.  Cuttting up a chicken is fairly easy.  Follow the dotted lines, or joints and cut there.  I begin with cutting out the back first. It gives me a flatter bird to work with and I can actually see the joints.  Cut through the joints Cut the thigh away from the leg.  Slice the wings from the breast.  Done.

Now, in the world of stocks, there are many options.  You have your bouillon cubes....very salty.  I usually keep some around if I need to boost flavor in certain dishes.  Just check the salt profile of the dish before adding anymore salt.  They have their place in the pantry.  There are also the canned broths and stock boxes.  The low sodium canned  broths are cheaper and convenient.  If you simmer a can or two with a mirepox of carrots, celery, and onion for about an hour, you'll have a fairly nice fortified broth/stock.  The boxed stocks are pretty good.  They do most, no all, of the work for you.  I use them when I don't have the leisure of stock making.

NOTHING beats a home made chicken stock.  When a lazy afternoon of nothing is on the agenda, it's the perfect way to make something useful, delicious, and aromatic.  When I have accumulated about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken parts in the freezer, I set about the joy of stock making.  I also use this as a way to clean out the vegetable bins the refrigerator. With the vegetables, I don't even bother to peel them.  The onion skins have tons of flavor and impart color.  Same goes with the carrots...use it all!  Don't waste anything.

There are two basic types of chicken stock; dark &; light.  The method for both is the same, but the preparation is different.  For a dark rich stock, I'll roast the chicken pieces and vegetables at 350 for about 45 minutes until sweetly caramelized.  Richly roasted caramelized food equals flavor. The method after this step is the same.
Put the chicken and vegetables into a high-sided stock pot or dutch oven.  Cover with cold water to cover by an inch.  Add a sachet of parsley, bay leaves, peppercorn, and thyme.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and skim the scum. NEVER stir or it will cloud. That is a cooking school mantra.  Let it simmer away for at least two hours.  Four is better, but check water levels and add as needed.  Two will do.
Drain through a cheesecloth, discard solids, and cool down rapidly.  Store in the refrigerator or freeze.

A perfectly made stock will be will jiggle, in a good when-it-melts-it-will-be-fantastic kind of way.  It is not brothy.  It is like chicken jello.  A beautiful thing to gaze upon and behold.  When you cook with it, the richness of the collagens and the depth of flavor will blow your mind!  It actually melts  and transforms into stock,.  Using this kind of stock will transform a humble soup into something devine.  It will elevate any dish that requires....stock.  And that's what cooking should be. It should elevate and transform the palate.

Or, most importantly, cooking should just make food taste damn good; and be fun!
And that's what a proper stock will do.

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