Friday, February 7, 2014

Chicken Stock, the Beginning of Everything

Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.
In my last writing I was putting my thoughts into word and clarifying my ideas. This time I am putting those thoughts into motion, slowly. So what item do we start with? I decided that the most basic cooking staple that there is, that mysterious concoction that boils long and slow and is tended by cooks as the weird sisters of Macbeth would tend their cauldron. And while the ingredients are only slightly less exotic than that of the Three Witches, Chicken Stock has intimidated and confounded many a home cook (including me).

I have to ask myself why I have never tried to make stock? I mean, I have a large pot so all the equipment is there. The ingredient list is simply, herbs, chicken, veggies and water (optional would be eye of newt, wing of bat, all optional) Whats the big deal? Maybe it's those easy little cans that go on sale all the time, or the perceived investment in time. You know, BBC America is showing a Top Gear marathon today and they almost never show Top Gear so I have no time to cook. If we really look hard enough we can find all types of excuses not do it, but I never looked for the one reason why to do it. What could be the possible reasons be to go to this effort? I control what goes in it. Ever read the side on that can? Have you ever notice the amount of sodium in there? I control the flavor, it's a twofer (there will be chicken left over) and it's cheaper than those cans that gone on sell every week.

So where to begin? Find a recipe. It is time to ask The Oracle, the source of all wisdom, the provider of knowledge, instruction, inspiration and silly cat videos. I speak of course, of the internet. Just search Chicken Broth and a you will have enough hits to take down Joe Frazier. How do we decide? All broth will have the same basic ingredients, Chicken (or Bones), onions, celery, carrot, and water. That's it, that is essentially stock, while this wouldn't be something that I would want to eat on it's own, it is the definition of stock. So how do we make it flavorful? Herbs and spices, this is the alchemy, this is what I control, it is also the point when a stock can become soup. What I mean is that you can go rouge by adding to many or to much flavor and the broth will only be able to be used in a couple of dishes. This is where I started to look at several recipes and none of them seemed to meet my tastes, so I decided to blend two of them. One I found in a cookbook I own the process was solid but I didn't like the herbs. The second was found on line and use herbs that I had in the kitchen. Armed with these instructions it was time to go the the kitchen. Time to open the refrigerator.

I approached the door and, knowing that I'm a bachelor, terror at the horrors I would find inside streaked through my body. I open the draws only to find my celery is on the verge of going bad, the carrots were drying out, and I had two left over onion halves (we shall not mention the date on the milk). This IS GREAT!!!! Stocks are the perfect way to use up veggies on the verge of going bad. Next I walked to the spice cabinet, I had rosemary, thyme and peppercorns. All I need now is chicken, time to go to the warehouse club.

Upon my arrival at the warehouse club I was greeted by several size choices. Game hens, Roaster, Fryers, and Broilers, it must be difficult going thought life named after the method that you should be cooked, but I digress. Which should I choose? Well game hens are nothing more that tiny chickens that cost $3.00 a pound. This price point would make those little cans, remember those little cans, way less expensive and seeing as I'm cheap, they're out. Roasters are the largest of the lot, weighing in at 4 to 5 pounds. Lots of meat and great for a roast chicken for a Sunday dinner, but at $2.50 a pound to rich for me. The next choice would be the Broiler and as the name would suggest perfect for fast high heat cooking methods, broiling and grilling are great for these dudes. The problem is finding these birds, most retailers have decided that chickens in that size range have a limited or no market. No, if I'm going to make this cheaper than those little, on sale cans, I have to find something cheaper. That led me to the last bird in this journey through the Mordor of Middle Earth that is the meat department, the Fryer. This guy comes in at about 3 ½ to 4 pounds. It is often refereed to as a Broiler/Fryer given its intermediate size it is good for roasting, frying and high heat cooking methods, and the best thing is that it comes in at around $.99 a pound. We Have A Winner!!!!!!!!!!! The great thing about this bird is that if you have good knife skills, a good sharp boning knife and a small amount of time you can buy these instead of buying pre-cut chicken parts. Look around and see what your paying other people to do what you could do for yourself, it will amaze you. Okay, I have vegetables, chicken, and water, so what's next? Oh, it's time to get cooking.

The first step, approach the bird. Most whole chickens come vacuum packed, nothing a sharp knife can't handle. I open up my chicken in a clean sink as there will be liquid. Despite it's unappetizing appearance, this liquid is not blood. Blood is removed at the processing plant. What this is, is water and some natural juices. However, cross contamination is at play here, so it is best to treat that liquid like bio-waste. After getting into the chicken you need to look into the cavity. Yes, you are about to look up a chicken's ass. In there you will find a plastic bag. The contents of this bag are known as the giblets. They are the liver, kidneys, gizzard and other assorted left overs that were removed at the processor. I have never tried a recipe utilizing this mystical bag that I have ever wanted to try twice. If you know of one, You Have My Attention. I normally toss this, but your mileage may vary. Once the bird is clean and drained, I put it in the my 8 qt stock pot. I than put in enough water to cover and move it to the stove. Notice that I moved the pot to the bird, Not the bird to the pot. Nothing like dripping chicken juice from the sink to the stove to get you to sanitize your entire kitchen.

The next step is to cut up the vegetable. By cut up, I mean to say just make them small enough to fit in the pot. Onions get cut in half or quarters, carrots and celery get cut into 3 inch pieces. That's it, nothing fancy. After this, you add you optional ingredients. This will be your spices and herbs of your choice, but remember this is a basic stock, if you go to heavy on the herbs and spices it may not be good in all your uses.

This is where we meet the heat. I turned on the heat to high. When it began to simmer, I backed it down to low to maintain the simmer. This is where this will stay for 2 to 6 hrs. In the first hour, you will start to notice foam build up on the surface. This is coagulated protein, and while it will not harm you, it will effect the final clarity of the stock/broth. For that reason, I do what chefs have tortured culinary school student with for centuries, and skim this off. All that you really have to to do is use a big spoon and remove it when you see it. At this point you can walk away, sort of. I only simmer till the chicken is falling off the bone about 2 to 3 hours. The idea of the long simmer is that you extract more collagen, a protein found in gelatin. The truth is chicken bones are very porous, so the release their collagen very quickly. I normally remove the chicken, shred the meat and return the carcass back to the pot for another hour. When shredding the meat, you may want to turn around, if you have pets, they are waiting for their share. I freeze the meat to use in another meal.

Now is the moment of truth, straining and cooling. In order to strain the broth you will need another vessel. I have a Very large stainless steel bowl that I also use to pop popcorn in. (Hey that could be a future post) I dropped this bowl in the freezer about and hour before I want to strain, I did mention that you need to cool this down. I grab my kitchen sieve and transfer the broth through the sieve, into the bowl catching all the vegetables and herbs. The vegetables and herbs have now passed on. You can only throw them away, I believe a moment of silence is in order. Okay, moving on! I than used a piece cheese cloth and strain again back into the original pot. The only reason to do this is make the broth clear. You can skip this if you like, I just don't want to know about it.

Now that we have it strained, we have to cool it, and quick. Broth and stock are perfect environments for bacteria. This is why I freeze the first bowl. I give it a head start. But this won't cool it completely. After the second strain I move it to a sink full of ice and water and put frozen water bottles in the broth. As soon as this reaches room temperature I move it to the refrigerator. As it sits in the fridge, a layer of fat will coagulate on the top. I remove this and freeze it, imagine potatoes cooked in it. Once this is done I divided it into cup containers and freeze. That's it, I made stock, and I made it cheaper that those on sale cans. Those cans cost $.78 a cup. Mine were $.42. I guess Top Gear isn't that interesting after all.

Chicken Broth


  • 3 to 4 lbs. Fresh whole chicken or 2 lbs. chicken bones
  • 1 onions, peeled
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 carrot (optional)
  • 8 black peppercorns (optional)
  • 2 sprigs fresh herbs or ½ tsp of dry herbs (optional)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt


  1. Put chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring just to a boil. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the surface. Add remaining ingredients, return just to a boil, and reduce heat to maintain a steady, gentle simmer. 2 hours.
  2. Remove chicken and shred meat. Return carcass to pot and simmer 1 more hour.
  3. Strain and discard solids. Let cool to warm room temperature. Keep chilled and use or freeze stock within a few days.
  4. Well frozen broth will keep for months. I freeze stock in 1 cup containers to use whenever recipes call for broth or stock. Defrost and bring to a boil before using.

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