The holidays are almost over. As always, I’ve enjoyed the preparation, parties and celebrations, and the copious amounts of food and drink. But usually even before New Year’s, I’m ready for it to end. Right now, nothing sounds so good as a quiet evening at home and a simple meal. That’s why I’m especially glad to have a supply of stock in the freezer. Actually, having good homemade stock, readily available, is one of the most valuable assets any cook can have at any time of the year. It’s easy to do, too.
There are commercial stocks as good as homemade available through gourmet shops and online. But they’re very expensive and not something that most of us can afford on a regular basis. The canned broths and stocks generally available in the grocery stores have gotten better in the last few years, but they’re still weak and have little flavor compared with homemade. There are low sodium versions, too, but the “regular” varieties are almost always overly salty.
When I said making stock was easy, I meant it – especially if you have a slow cooker. Just dump in the ingredients, add water, turn the pot on and let it burble away for two hours or two days. The result is culinary gold that has a thousand uses, not least of which is as the basis for that most comforting food of all: homemade chicken soup.
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This is a method rather than a specific recipe. Stock can be made with whole chickens or chicken parts – even the parts not normally eaten, such as wing tips and necks. It can be made from the bones when the meat, either cooked or raw, has been removed. Stock made from roasted chicken or chicken bones is called brown stock; when the chicken or bones are put in the pot uncooked, the resulting product is lighter in color and called white stock. The aromatic vegetables and spices used in making stock may be varied according to what’s available, what the stock will be used for, and personal taste. Vegetable trimmings – the root ends of onions, small leafy stalks of celery, leek tops, tiny garlic cloves in the middle of a head of garlic, parsley stems – are great.
Never add salt when making stock! If the stock is reduced or salty ingredients are part of a recipe calling for stock, the end product may be ruined.
- Suggested aromatics: onions, leeks, celery, parsley, carrots, garlic cloves, unpeeled bay leaves, whole peppercorns, whole cloves, leaf thyme (dried or fresh)
If making brown stock, roast the chicken (whole, parts, bones or trimmings) in a 400 oven until a rich brown color. Put the chicken into large pot or slow cooker. Place roasting pan over high heat, add 2 to 4 cups of water and deglaze the pan (stirring up all the browned bits on the bottom). Add to pot. Add the aromatics.
Cover with water. Bring to a bare simmer. If using uncooked chicken, put it in the pot and proceed as above, periodically skimming off the sediment that comes to the surface. Keep at a bare simmer – a lazy bubble. Do not allow stock to boil! Boiling emulsifies sediment and fat into the liquid, resulting in a cloudy stock.
For one chicken or chicken carcass, use some or all of the following: one carrot, one medium onion, one leek or leek top, one or two small stalks of celery, a few parsley stems, four to six unpeeled garlic cloves, one bay leaf, a teaspoon of peppercorns, one or two whole cloves, and a teaspoon of thyme. Add approximately one gallon of water. Simmer for at least two hours. If you’re using chicken with meat, remove the chicken after 45 minutes, let it cool enough to handle, then remove the meat return the bones and skin to the pot, setting the meat aside.
When the stock is finished, strain out the solids and then pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Then either put the stock into a fat separator, allow it to stand a few minutes, and pour off the stock or rapidly chill it by placing the pot in a sink of cold water, stirring the stock frequently and changing the water in the sink when it becomes warm.
When the stock is cool, refrigerate it until the fat (which will have come to the top) has hardened, and remove it. There are several ways to freeze stock – many people use ice-cube trays or small plastic containers. I like to put quarts of stock into gallon-size resealable plastic bags and squeeze out the air. They lie flat in the freezer, and they’re stackable.
This recipe is the result of much experimentation. Though it’s easy to make flavorful vegetable stock, what’s usually missing is the body that the natural gelatins in meat bones provide. Finally I hit on it: okra! That and the potatoes give this stock its body, making it as good as, if not better, than meat stocks.
- 2 large onions, NOT super-sweet
- 4 carrots
- 2 T. melted butter (preferred) or vegetable oil
- 2 c. chopped okra
- 1 c. dried mushrooms such as shiitake
- 4 stalks celery
- Stems from 1 bunch of flat-leaf Italian parsley
- 2 leek tops (the green parts)
- 1 tsp. dried thyme, or several sprigs fresh thyme.
- 4 cloves garlic or to taste
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves
- 1 T. peppercorns
- 1 lb. red boiling potatoes, cut into chunks
Preheat the oven to 450. Quarter the onions and two carrots. Toss with just enough butter to barely coat, and put in a single layer in a roasting pan.
Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally until the vegetables are evenly and deeply browned. Put the onions and carrots into a deep pot. Deglaze the roasting pan with water, and add to the pot. Add the remaining ingredients except the potatoes and cover with 2 gallons of water. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered for 2 hours. Add the potatoes and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove and cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing lightly on the vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible without pushing them through the strainer. Makes about 1 gallons of stock.
Chicken soup with spaetzle
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 c. diced celery
- 1/2 c. diced carrot
- 1/2 c. diced leek or onion
- 1 - 2 c. cooked chicken
- 1/4 c. chopped parsley
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/4 c. hot water
- 1/4 tsp. salt
Put the flour in a medium bowl and make a well in the center. Put the beaten egg, water and salt in the well and stir to form a loose dough. You may need to add a little more water.
Tip the bowl at a shallow angle over the pot of simmering soup and cut off ribbons of dough, as thin as possible, with a knife or spatula as the dough spills over the edge and falls into the soup. Dip the knife or spatula into the soup to help release the dough from it, if needed. Cut any large pieces of spaetzle.
Cook until the spaetzle have all risen to the top. Add chicken and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste and the parsley. Serves four or more.