Time to Take Stock

Since starting culinary school, you’ve probably noticed that the frequency of my posts has dramatically dropped.  It’s not because I’ve found any shortage of things to write about.  Actually, my head is about to explode with great topics, neat ideas and humorous insight into the world of culinary students.  In fact, at a later time I might have time to tell you about the cast of rebels and pirates that I immerse myself in on a daily basis.  But there are things to learn.  Food to appreciate.  And techniques to master.  So I’ll set the colorful stories of the rehabbing, homeless and tattooed and talk about stock.

What is it about making your own stock that makes even the most amateur of chefs feel like a professional?  Its not hard.  But with the shelves filled with mediocre or downright bad boxes of things that claim to be stock, we (as Americans tend to do) have gotten lazy.  Pick up a box and pour it in a pot.  Easy.  I’ve done it too.  Often.  I will even tell you that some of them aren’t so bad.  So when the topic of making stock came up at school, I wasn’t terribly thrilled.  Could it be that I too have opted for the lazy option of preferring the easy way?  Not even the easy way… just the less time-consuming way.  But now time is no excuse.  I’ve chosen to have my time devoted to all things culinary.  I’ve put everything else on hold for the sake of the bite.  So I shook off my reticence and went home after class to make stock.

Several hours and one great movie (The Soloist – ah Robert Downey Jr.) later my stock was done.  I took a bite and was instantly ashamed that I had become comfortable calling those boxed things stock.  Shame on me.  It’s not that I hadn’t tasted good stock before.  But I had just accepted the mediocrity.  I was comfortable in that boxed-stock place.  Shame.

I’m not saying I’ll never again use the boxed stuff – or the bouillon cube.  I’m sure there are things that don’t require the rich buttery freshness of homemade stock.  But I plan to always remember that a good recipe can be made great with the right ingredients.  Some call BS on the whole ingredient-driven trend.  I get that too.  But that’s not because the quality of ingredients don’t matter.  It’s because quality of ingredients should ALWAYS matter so much that there shouldn’t have to be an “ingredient-driven” classification.

So here’s how I made the chicken stock, a clear or white stock (as opposed to it’s dark beef or veal sisters).  I chose it because I use it a lot and chicken wings are a heck of a lot easier to find than fish heads.  Rent a good movie (again, I recommend The Soloist) and make yourself a stock too.  Put it in your freezer, in manageable qualities and see how much better your dishes turn out.  Go ahead.  I dare you.

Chicken Stock (but if you use veal bones, it’s veal stock.  Same recipe.  Cool, huh?)

6 pounds of chicken wings (or giblet, neck bones, carcasses etc..)

1 carrot, whole

1 leek, white, whole

1 onion, peeled and studded with 4 cloves

1 celery stalk, halved

1 Bouquet garni (large)…. this is parsley, thyme and bay leaf tied together

mushroom trimmings

water

1 garlic head, cut in half

1/4 oz. whole peppercorns (traditionally use white but black are okay too!)

  1. Rinse the chicken pieces in cold running water.  Place in stock pot and add enough water to cover generously.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  Skim the surface of the impurities that rise to the surface in the form of a dirty foam.  Skim off any fat as well.
  2. Rinse under cold water until the water runs clear.  Drain
  3. Add carrot, leek, onion, celery, bouquet garni, mushroom trimmings, peppercorns and garlic to the pot with drained chicken.  Add enough fresh water to cover.  Simmer the stock gently until the liquid is strongly scented (2-4 hours – this is a great time to watch that movie!).  Occasionally pause your movie or use the commercial breaks to skim and degrease the surface of the stock during the cooking process.
  4. Strain the finished stock through a fine mesh sieve (chinois) lined with cheesecloth.  Discard all of the “stuff” that strains out (chicken, vegetables, herbs, etc).
  5. Let stock cool to room temperature before covering it and placing in refrigerator or freezer.
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