Day 6: How to Make Really Good Chicken Stock

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Admission: I am seriously considering making six quarts of chicken stock for Soup Swap this year.

Oh, but Julie! You say. That is so dull, so boring! That does not adequately reflect your vivacious personality at all! Whatever will you have to say at The Telling of the Soup?

Oh, but dear reader, I respond. True chicken stock is a revelation. I am not just giving you six little dinners. I am bestowing upon you a new perspective -- a new way to live.

In my brain, that imaginary conversation takes place with a French accent. I am not sure why.

chicken stock
Image by gudlyf via Flickr

There are as many ways to make stock as there are cooks. I prefer the below. Rather than using the carcass of a roasted chicken (which works just fine and does make you feel like you're magicking something from nothing), I like to go with the gelatin-heavy wings or backs. Some cooks roast just the bones; I like to use very meaty bones (or very bony meat). You can freeze your parts any time you're butchering a chicken to save them for later; or go beg a butcher for them; or just buy yourself some wings.

Roasting the meat and the veggies in the oven makes for a caramelized flavor that gives soup some depth -- this is not a light, "chicken" stock but rather a rich, soulful stock, which makes an intriguing, mysterious soup. Or, you know, just a very tasty one.

Truly Delicious and Easy Roasted Chicken Stock

8 pounds of chicken wings (backs and necks work too if you have them; just the wing tips also work just fine), chopped in half
1/4 cup white wine or water
One large yellow onion, quartered
One carrot, broken in half (washed, no need to peel)
1 parsnip, broken in half (washed, peeled)
Two celery ribs, broken in half
Sprig of thyme
Sprig of parsley
2 bay leaves
12 peppercorns
Pinch of salt
8 quarts of cold water

Toss wings and veggies with a little bit of olive oil. Place on baking sheet and roast at 450, turning occasionally, for 30 minutes or until dark golden brown. Pat off any surface oil with paper towel. Pour the wine (or water) onto the hot baking sheet and scrape it to loosen the brown bits -- this is called deglazing and it brings a lot of toasty flavor.

Place roasted goodness, brown-bit wine, herbs, salt and pepper in a 10-quart pot (I use a pressure cooker) and cover with cold water. You can use two pots or do two batches -- just make sure everything's covered by at least an inch of cold water.

Pressure-cook on high for 35 minutes, or bring to boil in an 8-quart pot and reduce to low heat, then cook uncovered at a bare simmer for four hours.

If you're simmering, you can skim off the foam that rises to the top. The point of skimming the foam is that it makes for a clearer broth. But it never mattered to me that I can't skim the scum in the pressure cooker (rich stock in under an hour -- who cares if it's clear?). Anyway, the roasty stock will always be more brown than golden, and therefore I don't mind if you skip this step.

Turn off the heat and let stock cool for half an hour. Remove all the solids you can with a pair of tongs. Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer into a clean container. If it still looks particularly, er, particulate after first straining, rinse your strainer, cover it with cheesecloth and re-strain.

Refrigerate overnight. The fat will float up to the top and solidify into a fat cap -- ewwww, a "fat cap" -- and you can pry it off and call it schmaltz and put it in your matzo brei. Schmaltz = chicken stock perk.

When fat is removed put into a dutch oven and reduce by 1/3. Taste and adjust for salt. You'll probably want to add more salt here if you're using. If you're freezing most of the broth, keep it undersalted so you're able to add salt freely when you're ready to cook. Strain and use, or pour into quart containers to freeze. Don't forget to label your soup, people.

Note: When you refrigerate your stock, it may turn into Jello. This is a good thing -- the collagen from the wing tips and/or backs turns into an unctuous liquid. But I hear tell there's something even better for stock: chicken feet. Since they're all skin and bone, chicken feet make high-viscosity stock with a chickeny flavor. No need to roast -- you just have to blanch for 5 minutes in boiling water. This I may try for Soup Swap, if only for the awesomeness of the soup label .

Have you tried making stock from chicken feet? What's your favorite stock recipe? Would you be disappointed if you went to a Soup Swap and wound up with stock instead?

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