Friday, May 30, 2008

Chicken Stock for the Soul

I attended a professional networking event recently. Someone I had just met asked me what kinds of hobbies I have. "What do you do in your free time?" he inquired.

The response that came to mind, unbidden, was: "Well, I make chicken stock." Thanks to my lucky stars and the social gods, I did not actually say this out loud. I do not need to be remembered as "the one who makes chicken stock."

But the truth is, I do make a lot of stock. There's just no way to replace the taste of homemade chicken stock and vegetable stock in a recipe. Plus, when I make my own, I know exactly what goes into it, which is important to me.

I also can control the sodium content when I make my own stock. Open your pantry and take a gander at the amount of sodium in your commercial stock. Mmm hmm--your clothes have been snug lately? Really. Make your own stock and save the salt for something worth it, people.

I go through a lot of stock in any given week. It goes in my sauces, I use it in soups. It's so easy to fill a stock pot with water, some peppercorns, and a handful of assorted vegetables, and let it simmer for an hour or two in the evening. Once the color is rich and the taste is savory, I strain the stock through a colander and let it cool slightly. I then ladle the stock in 1/4-cup, 1-cup, 2-cup, and 1-quart amounts into appropriately-sized containers. The containers freeze well and will last for several months (although in my house, they never do).

I just don't need to be telling other professionals in my non-culinary field about this. Which is why I tell people, "Oh, I cook a lot" when asked about my hobbies. Those who are interested will get more information, just not more than they'd bargained for.

Here are two of my favorite stock recipes. The vegetable stock recipe, with its caramelized richness, has been billed as "The World's Greatest Vegetable Broth" by The chicken stock recipe--my own--deserves similar praise (just a humble opinion).

If you are wondering about the difference between stock and broth, the terms are used almost interchangeably. Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything and the New York Times blog "Bitten," writes, "I usually call the basic ingredient 'stock' and the enhanced, nearly ready-to-serve soup 'broth.'"

The World's Greatest Vegetable Broth
Adapted from Tom West's recipe on

1 pound celery
1 1/2 pounds sweet onions
1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound tomatoes, cored
1 pound green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound turnips, cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large cloves garlic
3 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
6 whole black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1 gallon water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Remove leaves and tender inner parts of celery and set aside.

Toss onions, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers and turnips with olive oil. Place vegetables in a roasting pan and place them in the 450 degrees oven. Stir the vegetable every 15 minutes. Cook until all of the vegetables have browned and the onions start to caramelize, this will take over one hour.

Put the browned vegetables, celery, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, pepper corns, Italian parsley and water into a large stock pot. Bring to a full boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook uncovered until liquid is reduced by half.

Pour the broth through a colander, catching the broth in a large bowl or pot. The liquid caught in the bowl or pot is your vegetable broth it can be used immediately or stored for later use.

Makes about 2 quarts of broth.

The World's Greatest Chicken Stock

The bones of 1 roasted chicken
1 gallon cold water
6 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup loosely-packed Italian parsley
6 springs of fresh thyme
3 large carrots, sliced in half lengthwise
1 large yellow onion, sliced in half and unpeeled
3 sticks of celery
2 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Place all of the ingredients in a large stock pot and cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the pot to simmer for 1 hour, covered. Add 2 cups of water after the contents have reduced for 1 hour. Simmer for 1 more hour, covered.

Pour the broth through a colander, catching the broth in a large bowl or pot.

Makes about 2 quarts of stock.

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