Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cooking with Mikey: Chicken Stock

I am slowly starting to feel better. I would have loved some homemade soup during the week while I was so sick, but unfortunately didn't have the energy to make any. The Mister pulled through with Campbell's Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese sandwiches during my misery, which was almost as good since I didn't have to cook or clean a thing.

I try to roast chickens regularly. One chicken easily feeds our family of four, and more often than not provides leftovers I then toss in a big salad for the next night's dinner. I save the carcass/bones to make chicken stock, which I store in the freezer for other meals. If you've never made chicken stock, I suggest you give it a whirl. It is very simple to make and takes almost no supervision while it sits on the stove for hours. Plus, it makes the house smell yummy.

You don't have to roast your own chicken, either. You can use one of the pre-roasted chickens you can buy at store near the checkout counter if you come home too late to roast your own bird. Just be careful when selecting the flavor of a bird you will later use for stock. "Chipotle-Orange Roasted Chicken" may taste good off the bone, but it makes an odd flavored stock.

I never have the energy to make chicken stock after cooking dinner, but buy all means go for it if you are so inclined. I prefer to place the carcass is a freezer zip-bag and toss it in the big-chill until I'm ready. I had two waiting for me in the freezer today, so I decided today would be a fine day to teach Mikey how to make chicken stock.

Chicken Stock

You will need:

  • Chicken, whole bird or whole bird carcass
  • Carrots, 3-6 whole
  • Celery, 3-6 with leaves
  • Onions, 1-2 whole
  • Garlic, 1 head
  • Herbs (I use thyme, parsley, and bay leaves)
  • Salt, 1-2 TB
  • Peppercorns, 1-2 tsp.
  • The biggest pot you have
  • Water to cover
Chicken Stock

I recently made soup at my parents house, and must have left my bay leaves there. Chicken stock is flexible, though, so it's not the end of the world. I also didn't have fresh parsley or thyme, so I just used the dry version I had in the pantry.

Start off by tossing all your chicken bones in a big pot. Then roughly, and I do mean roughly, cut up all your vegetables.

Chicken Stock

Chicken Stock

Seriously, in half is fine. Don't go crazy scrubbing them, and don't peel them, either. Since they are root vegetables, they can be unwieldy for small hands to chop. For me, the easiest way to allow Mikey to participate was for him to rest his hands on mine. I did let him try on his own, but it just required too much force to get through the carrot. I felt this was the safest way for both of us to have a good time. Mikey was already removing his hands from mine when the Mister took the picture of us chopping celery. He had them higher up on me (and much farther from the knife blade) when we were actually chopping.

Chicken Stock

The same technique doesn't work for the onions or garlic. Just let your little one watch while you slice through anything round and mobile. Mikey's job was to pick it all up off the counter and dump it into the pot. Don't bother removing the skin from your onions or garlic. They'll get separated out later, and the onion skin contributes to the color of the stock.

Chicken Stock

At this point you can go ahead and add your salt and pepper. Be generous with the salt. Mikey likes to pinch and sprinkle like the chefs do on T.V., but his little fingers can't pinch nearly enough to season the stock. I let him do that for a while, and then toss in a healthy tablespoon or two of salt while he is busy opening the peppercorn jar.

Chicken Stock

I fill his palm with peppercorns, which is about a couple of teaspoons, and let him toss it into the pot.

Chicken Stock

After that, I fill the pot with water to cover. I do this before I add my herbs because, for me, it makes it easier to judge if I have enough. I want the stock to look like stock from a restaurant, which is usually peppered with herbs through out. My stock pot is huge today because I have two chicken carcasses in there. I've been slow to make stock because the weather has been so warm.

At this point you can turn on the stove to medium-low (depending on your burner) and let it simmer for four hours or so. If y ou get what looks like foam, skim it off with a ladle and toss it. Other than that, you're done. Send off any little ones who have helped you to play. The rest is boring, and transferring the hot stock to containers when it's done isn't safe for clumsy hands.

Chicken Stock Hour 1

Chicken Stock Hour 2

Chicken Stock Hour 4

It will reduce quite a bit in the pot, and that's fine. Usually it's about an inch and hour. When it smells and looks good and rich (about 4 hours) take it off the heat and strain the stock into a new container. Because I made so much stock (12 cups!) I had to strain it into another large pot and then transfer it to canning jars. Normally, I would just strain it into a large glass bowl.

Chicken Stock

Allow it to come to room temperature on the counter, then refrigerate it overnight, and the next morning skim off all the fat and impurities on top. See how my stock looks a little murky? That's because it's right out of the pot. Tomorrow, after I skim the top, it will be nice and clear. Store the stock in freezer safe container in whatever unit of measure you prefer. I like 1-2 cups, which is about the amount I use for any recipe. The stock should keep in your freezer for about 3 months.

This week I plan on using this stock to make a family favorite around here--Chicken Tortilla Soup.