When we last checked in with Shoot To Cook I was researching recipes, shopping for chicken parts, and locating a pot of sufficient size to make stock. And what is our hero doing now? Trying to find the appropriate stock-making music. Can’t cook without music. Duh. For some reason the combination of 70s era cookbooks, the cold and rain outside, and the cooking smells in my kitchen reminded me of childhood, so I popped in some music* that further enhanced my nostalgia: Graceland by Paul Simon.Genius album, great cooking music. And finally I was ready to cook some stock!
Making stock is a relatively easy proposition as it turns out. You pretty much just break up the veggies, drop them into a stock pot with your meat, fill the pot with water and turn on the heat. You let it cook uncovered for six hours or so until you have rendered every last bit of collagen, every nutrient, and every bit of flavor out of your ingredients. Strain out all the gunk, cool it down, package, freeze. Done.
Well, ok, ok, there are a few more steps and important steps to follow. And it does take some time. It took me about 40 minutes from the time I started until I had the stock on the stove and the heat going. Keep in mind that this included the time added to make photos of the process, so figure it only really took me 20 minutes or so. Then it took a lot of monitoring throughout the day straining off scum and watching heat levels. All told it was a seven hour project.
Once the ingredients are in the pot, it is important to keep your ingredients submerged in the water while cooking. Your ingredients will have the pesky tendency to float during cooking. Alton Brown uses a steamer down in the pot to keep everything under water; my stock pot came with a small strainer that fit into the top which worked in a similar fashion.
Next it is important to keep your stock at a bare simmer. This took the most care, especially in the first hour. You don’t want to take forever to get to the simmering point, so start with your burner on high. Then once you hit the simmer stage, turn it back to medium low to low in order to keep it steady without a boil. I found that I had to tweak it several times to keep the appropriate simmer level. A boil will blast your ingredients and will fill your stock with ugly particulate matter that will be tough to strain out.
As you cook, scum is going to form on top of your stock. Strain this off periodically throughout the day, particularly in the first hour or so when the scum forms. Alton Brown also advocates adding hot water throughout to account for the liquid lost due to steam. None of my other recipes say to do this, but I ended up doing it because in Alton We Trust. Which more often than not has been getting me into trouble lately. More on this in the after action notes.
Finally, once your stock is done, strain it using a strainer and some cheesecloth to get rid of all the particulate matter. Then you need to cool it down and store it quickly so that it doesn’t go bad. Stock apparently keeps badly in the refrigerator but does well in the freezer. I opted to use quart mason jars but any size will do. Don’t forget to label your containers. Once it goes into the freezer there’s no telling when it will come out, and you’re going to want to know how long it’s been in there. Plus, once it’s frozen it’ll be hard to tell exactly what it is.
Basic Chicken Stock
3 lbs of chicken necks and backs (or other chicken parts)
1 lb of chicken gizzards
1 onion quartered
1 leek, white part only, cleaned and cut in half
4 celery stalks
Bouquet Garni (containing fresh thyme, fresh parsley and bay leaves)
Add all of the ingredients into a 12 quart stock pan. Add water to cover all of the ingredients. Turn stove to high heat and bring to a bare simmer, then reduce heat to keep at simmer. Do not boil. Simmer for 6 hours. Use a strainer to skim the scum off the surface every half hour or so, more frequently in the first hour. When the stock is finished (you can test by seeing if the bones crumble easily) strain the stock through a strainer and some cheese cloth to remove all of the floaty bits. Then cool the stock, and either use immediately or portion into usable size and freeze.
Yield: 6-8 Quarts of Stock
After Action Report
Overall I think my stock was a success. I made a few mistakes throughout the process though which hopefully I won’t repeat next time. First, I don’t think I needed to add water as Alton Brown suggests. Or maybe not as much. While stock is not meant to be a reduction, I think that I had too much water to begin with, and could have benefited from some reduction throughout. As a result, my stock is a bit thin. I yielded a full 8 quarts of stock, but I imagine I’ll need to reduce it a good bit before using otherwise it won’t be a potent.
Also, I strained the stock right into my mason jars to cool. This meant that the mixture wasn’t well mixed, so the first few quarts aren’t as concentrated as the later ones from the bottom of the pot. This will no doubt affect the taste in my recipes. Again, some reduction of the less concentrated quarts should fix this.
A note on salt: You will notice that this recipe doesn’t use any salt. This is because you are going to use stock as a base for other dishes, and I think it’s important to have full control of your salt at the time you’re making the dish. If you salt your stock ahead of time you won’t have as much flexibility.
In any case, I’m ready to make some chicken stock based dishes. Actually I kind of have to now that my freezer is full of stock. In case you missed it, here is a link to Stock Investment (Part 1)
*Isn’t it interesting how we still say things like “popped in some music” when in fact we are not popping in a cassette or a CD we’re just turning clicking play on our mp3 player? Do the kids say things like that anymore?