Culinary Sagacity

~Thought for Food~

The Cathayans believed that the soul or mind is located not in the head but in the stomach.

Doubtless this explains why they fret so much about the preparation and serving of food.

It may also explain why their memories are so much better than ours.

Information is stored not in the finite head, but in the expandable stomach.

--Cyrus Spitama in Gore Vidal's Creation

Friday, November 14, 2008

Home-Made Stock: Three Simple Steps from Bones to Broth

I love roasting a whole chicken. I love the way it smells, I love the crispy skin, but most of all, I love roasting a chicken because I get to make a savory stock from the left-overs.

If there's one ingredient that sets the enthusiast apart from the casual cook, it's home-made stock. Nothing at the supermarket will ever match the richness, depth of flavor, purity and TLC of home-made stock. Thing is, while stock is super easy to make, it does take time. A poultry stock can simmer away on your stove for 2-3 hours. Beef or veal stock may take up to six hours, while a vegetable stock takes about 1 & ½. But the time your stock spends simmering is not all active time. After keeping a close watch in the beginning, you can just leave it on a low simmer and let it work its magic on its own, concentrating its flavor as it reduces to your desired strength.

Step One: Just Add Water

When making any stock, all you need are raw or roasted bones (or veges—whichever ones you like) and water. When I roast a chicken (or turkey, poussin, etc), I save the entire carcass. Within two days, I pull the carcass out of the fridge, break it down, and put the pieces straight into my heavy stock pot. If you're working with raw parts, roast poultry at 425, beef and veal bones at 435, and veges at 400, until they are golden brown. Roasting produces a "brown" stock, using raw ingredients produces a "white" stock.

When you've got your parts in the pot, add enough water to cover the contents completely. I use filtered or distilled water— it will be my stock—so I refrain from using tap water like I would when boiling pasta.

Never add salt when making stock! As your liquid reduces, the salt will become concentrated, and your stock will be much saltier than intended. With home-made stock, you just add salt to taste when you're using it.

Next, put the stock pot on the stove over medium-high heat, uncovered. You don't want your stock to come to a rolling boil, that's part of why you have to babysit it. The other reason is that as the liquid gets hotter, you have to skim the top.

Step Two: Skim the Brim

For a beautifully clear stock, you've got to skim the brim to remove all the foam that develops as the liquid heats. This foam is nothing more than fat and sinew released from the bones, which is why you have more skimming with a white stock than a brown one, much of the fat and sinew melts during the roasting process for a brown stock.

Just before your stock reaches a boil (you'll see a couple of large bubbles perk up, and a lot of steam), turn the heat down to medium and don't let it boil. No matter how much you've skimmed your stock, if you let it boil, the end result will be a murky liquid. That's no big deal if you plan to use it in a risotto, braise or Bolognese, but if you want to use it as broth for, say, chicken soup, then you'll want a crystal clear liquid—called a consommé.

Now that your stock has reached an almost-boil and you've turned the heat down to medium, stay put, and step up the skimming. At maximum heat level, the bones give off a continuous amount of muck. But you'll soon see there's nothing more to skim, and you can stop baby-sitting. Just turn the heat down to med-low, leave it uncovered, and let it simmer away on its own.

Step Three: Drain and Strain

When your stock is finished simmering, it's time to drain and strain. I drain the liquid first by pouring all the contents through a large sieve (like you would use to drain pasta). Then I take the just-drained liquid and strain it through a fine sieve lined with a paper towel. This straining will remove all the tiny bits that slipped through the large sieve, leaving you with a consommé.

I like some fat in my stock—fat is flavor after all. If you prefer none, you just need to refrigerate it overnight with a sheet of plastic wrap touching the liquid. When the stock cools, the fat solidifies and sticks to the plastic wrap. When the stock is cooled (and you've removed the fat if desired), pour it into ice cube trays or freezer-safe containers and freeze it.

Now you've got a stash of stock for use at a moment's notice. Risottos, á la minute pan sauces, soups, rice, braises, and stuffing are just a few things that need good stock and consommé. With the summer behind us, there's no better time to make your own stock. After all, so much of what we want to eat when it's cold—all that comfort food—will benefit beyond measure. Plus, making stock not only warms your home and fills it with wonderful scents, it warms your heart and fills it with a love of cooking.

Chicken Stock on Foodista

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