superlative chicken stock

October 20th, 2008 · 57 Comments

when i first read ‘the making of a chef’ by michael ruhlman, i remember being struck by the last line in an early chapter where he wrote something like, "and then i realized i had come to the CIA to learn how to make a perfect brown veal stock".

having made my own perhaps not-as-perfect version of veal stock, and now that i always keep a couple of quarts of this velvety and sublime stuff on hand, i knowingly smiled. because after all the cooking and the reading, and then all the eating, i get it. i really do. it matters. and so it’s worth the eye-rolls that i get from some friends who think my ingredients are a bit too esoteric, and my technique and principles, elitist – the same friends that when i see them use stock from a can or a box, i bite my tongue and cringe…

because i won’t.

i just can’t.

i’ve been shown the way, the light and the most noble of culinary truths…

no real stock on hand? use water.

happy halloween…

but then there are also those times when veal is not the stock of choice. veal stock is more neutral, able to boost flavors in a very subtle but definitive way, while chicken stock is unmistakably – chickeny. and well, sometimes it’s just what you need and nothing else will do. ok, turkey stock will definitely do and then some…

so when the weather was deciding to get cooler, before it changed its mind and went back to the mid 80’s (and now down again), i decided to make chicken soup. i had hit the farmers market a few days before and picked up a chicken, a bag of necks and a bag of feet. the original thought was that i’d make some stock. after all, tis the season of soups and braises and stock is the quintessential element.

so i began by cutting the wings off my chicken and browning them in a large pot along with the assorted aforementioned extras in just a bit of canola oil and then filling the pot with filtered water, bay leaves, crushed peppercorns, a couple of carrots and a very large onion. the last addition was the bag of roasted carcasses and assorted bones that had been saved and frozen from our last 3 roasted chicken dinners in anticipation of ‘stock making day’.

reach out and touch someone…

my goal was to create a good solid stock and then add my now wingless chicken to the pot along with a parsnip for the last 90 minutes. the chicken would then get removed, skinned and pulled apart and the broth would be strained some more. and there would be egg noodles along with the shredded meat – and a few sliced carrots thrown in at the end with a very fine smattering of parsley for color… such is my usual chicken soup.

after about 4 hours at a barely imperceptible bubble, i removed the feet, neck, bones and vegetables and strained the broth through my damp towel lined chinoise, not once but 3 times. my stock looked and smelled absolutely beautiful and i was feeling pretty good about myself. and then i suddenly remembered the whole superlative stock concept that chef pardus had mentioned in ruhlman’s book and i temporarily lost interest in the soup. just like that. and i decided to go the extra mile and make the best damn chicken stock this side of the mississippi.

so into the strained stock went the body of the chicken and i let it simmer for about another 2 hours. after, i removed the bird from the broth, peeled off the skin in one full swoop and shredded the meat. it went into the refrigerator for whatever, whenever, later getting used in one round of soup, sandwiches and salads and the occasional cat treat.

the stock was put back on the stove and slowly reduced down for another 2 hours and was then strained 2 more times. after it cooled on the stove, it was zip-locked and frozen in 2 cup batches. i kept the last 2 cups in the fridge to make us soup at some point that week, and when i went back to my stock, it was heavily gelatinized.


a very good sign…

i think both chef pardus, ruhlman and my grandmother would have been pleased with the result.

later that week the stock shown above was reheated, slightly rehydrated, seasoned and then the obligatory noodles, chicken meat and carrot coins were added. i never did remember the parsley – or to take a photo of the finished soup.

when we sat down to dinner and i took my first spoonful, cary asked me how i thought it was and i looked at him and said, "it’s extraordinarily honest."

so maybe next time i won’t make the superlative version of my chicken stock. or maybe i will.

i guess we’ll just see how the day is going… 

Tags: chicken · soup

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