Friday, October 14, 2005

Chicken Stock Zen

I work from home so today I decided instead of cooking myself lunch, I'd have some cheese and crackers and make chicken stock. Really, what's not to like about chicken stock? It's cheap - chicken parts, an onion, a couple of carrots, a couple of celery stalks, some parsley, some thyme, some salt - maybe $8 worth of ingredients. And it's easy - rinse the chicken, chop up the veggies, dump it all into a big pot with a gallon of water, turn on the burner and go back to work.

Sure, you have to check on it occasionally to make sure it's not bubbling too much and skim some of the gook off the surface, but it's basically three hours of nothing. You can go back to work, watch some TV, or just stare at the friendly little bubbles rising through the stock (I did a lot of that when I wasn't working). After three or so hours, I strain it to get the big stuff out, then let it cool a bit, and skim and strain it again with cheesecloth to get the little stuff out. I let it cool a little more and divide it up into those disposable freezer containers, two or three cups each, and put them in the freezer.

A word about gook. I started making stock using rotisserie chickens from the market. I would strip most of the meat off the bones to use for something else, and use the carcass as the base of the stock. There's not much foam or fat using a cooked chicken, and I'm assuming it's because most of the fat and other liquids melted out during the rotisserie cooking process. Now I use raw chicken pieces, which results in a LOT more gray foam and shiny bubbles of fat. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Now I've got stock for risotto or soups or gnocchi or whatever! Sure, sure, I hear you - I don't have four hours to do the prep, let it cook then store it. Really? What did you do last Sunday afternoon? Or Saturday morning? I find it to be a very soothing routine, making chicken stock. I don't fuss over it but I do like to keep an eye on it because good-tasting chicken stock means good-tasting dishes down the road. It's a great thing.

Edit from later: I will say there's one thing I've always done with stock, and that is simmer it at too high a temp. I usually get about six cups of stock from sixteen cups of water, which is about half what I probably should get. So today I froze my six cups in two-cup containers and stuck a Post-it on them (which will end up on the freezer floor so I need to figure that out), reminding myself to dilute them.

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