I have always been a fiend for stocks. They are the root of so much of my cooking style. Chicken stock is a near weekly travail – it’s the stock that has the widest permutations by far. No need for it ever to come in a crumbly cube – fresh made and frozen into an ice tray is as close as a stock should come to that shape.
For interest, I’ve tasted most stocks on sale – none pass muster. Why? To think of the millions of chicken carcases destined for petfood or worse each week – and there’s a fine business to be had for small investment, but a big thoughted vision. For now, enjoy making your own – and become a stock master at home.
To get started, find a good local butcher who supplies restaurants – this means they’ll be filleting 200, 300 or more chickens at a go. Restaurant kitchens are largely de-skilled because skills cost money and those below top tier status are designed to run their kitchens as cheaply as is possible, besides which few restaurants have call for dark meat (legs and thighs).
Ensure your butcher is only working with Free Range chickens – that’s my only stipulation. Ours – Dring’s on Royal Hill, Greenwich - does and they sell a stripped carcase for 15p – so two dozen comes to just £3.60. This is the building block to a week’s good eating.
Using the carcase(s) from the Sunday roast chicken is good – but frugal. Stock making is best when on a cottage industry scale.
To make the stock, I currently have two preferred methods. I’m kitchen contrary, so when I discover something different it becomes my favoured way instead.
Colour is important – a close second to the depth and richness of flavour. By colour I mean no colour – absolutely glass clear. Creamy coloured stocks are anathema to me – they taste fine, but they are somehow unsightly. If you allow the stock to reach boil for more than a few minutes and all is lost to a creamy stock – then you just have to cuss loudly and resign yourself to using it best you can.
Here I describe my two techniques. First, Method 1, using the raw carcases. Bring at least a dozen to the boil in the largest pan you own. Every kitchen needs one large pan for stocks and pasta.
Immediately it boils lower the heat and wait for the white cook-off to foam on the surface. This is harmless, if unsightly protein, but it does need removing – so carefully drain the pan and then wash off the carcases for any trace of it. Refill with fresh cold water and bring up to the boil a second time. I suggest on no more than a medium flame so you’re not caught unawares with a fast boiling stock when you answered that ‘phone call, or become distracted in any way from the task in hand.
Directly it boils, drop heat to lowest setting so the liquid is barely moving. Place a stainless steel spoon or ladle in the pan and cook on for three hours or more. At three hours there will be sufficient flavour for a broth – double that to six and the flavour will intensify. The resulting stock will be glass clear. The absolute purist might pass this through muslin to remove any fat or flecks.
Our shot shows Method 1 (crystal clear) at top – Method 2 (roasted carcases) in bottom two pans. Note the colour difference between the two methods after 3+ hours simmering.
Method 2 starts with roasting the carcases at 200C for 60 minutes – or until they take some colour and any pickings are sufficiently cooked through to make a sandwich. Meat on the bones does little to improve the stock so it’s best retrieved.
Allow to cool enough to comfortably break by hand into pieces and transfer to a large stock pot. Bring to the boil but this time there will be no cook off, so just drop heat to lowest setting and allow to simmer. Pour boiling water into the roasting tin and scrape away all the that’s caramelised on the tin. Add to the pot for this is pure goodness. The better the birds the more likely this will be naturally jellied if left overnight.
As before, you will have a good flavoured broth in three hours – a deeper, richer one in six or longer. Mostly I simmer both on for a couple of days – meaning around 10-12 hours on the low flame, topping up the level from time to time with fresh, cold water. Contrary to what I’ve honestly heard people say, flavour cannot evaporate, but only intensify.
Now to elaborate. Colour and flavour dimensions can be adjusted to your pleasure by adding onion, shallot, celery leaf, tomato, fresh herbs (thyme and parsley are my favourites). Rough cutting the onion or shallot and leaving on the skins deepens the colour of the final stock – tomato also a richness and glow to the hue.
Garlic, un-waxed lemon or orange peel (the Chinese might use tangerine in theirs – impossible top find un-waxed, so best avoided), the green tops from the leeks – you can figure what pleases you and your diners – and where the stock is destined. Most times I stick with nothing more than the carcases.
Game birds are specially fine – what’s essential is scrapping out the blood that sets and collects along the spine after cooking – and making certain there’s no trace of the liver too – either will make the stock unpleasantly bitter. If you pluck and draw your own, use the feet and heads also. Likewise with rabbits or hares. No need to be purist – mix what game you have.
Stock and Jus
Veal and beef stocks both need the bones being roasted so as to release the natural sugars in the meat still adhering to the bones. They also need skimming a day after making because the fat is white and hard. The 3-6 hour rule applies, but cooking on improves the depth of flavour. Adding onion, carrot, leek, etc deepens the flavour – tomatoes give it a wonderful colour. Attempt a veal jus by cooking on and reducing until it coats a spoon back.
Remember these are stocks for the home kitchen – reference Le Repertoire de La Cuisine (first published 1914) and the options for stocks are many and best left to the Masters who doff their toques to Grand Master Escoffier.
Fish and shellfish stocks we’ll cover another time, although they have been referenced in earlier posts.
Vegetable stocks won’t be. They’re best left well alone for all they are worth. Although, what is a Minestrone made correctly in the Spring, but a fine vegetable broth.
Simple food is what I set out to achieve – and, as is Blue Collar Gastronomy, this requires the best ingredients I can find, forage or filch. A good butcher and an obliging fish-monger help too.