Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Quickest chicken stock by Marc Bittman

This recipe is taken from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, p46 ISBN: 0-4717-8918-6, published March 2006.

The recipe promises to be the quickest and simplest yet tastiest stock ever made. High praise for something so very simple. The complex notes of browned bones & cooked meets are not present, but the stock is very light in color and flavour--perfect for heavily spiced dishes and most soups, but probably not my favourite to use when cooking rice or polenta; where I'm more use to the complex notes of a roasted stock.

The recipe starts simple enough - wash a chicken, pat it dry and put it in a stock pot. My chicken had spent about a day too long in the fridge, so it definitely needed a bath. It was, however, completely thawed, and once washed free of the blood and inner organs - smelled much better. I patted it dry and dutifully put it in my largest stock pot. Note to self: I need a bigger stock pot.

I put the inner organs (lungs and livers) into a bag, labeled it, and put them in the freezer. The labeling is most important when freezing organ meats that, once frozen, may be mistaken for other foods (like, say hamburger). The whole oh-my-goodness-what-did-I-thaw-and-how-can-I-now-make-this-work scenario is just bad and should be avoided at all costs (especially when the cost to avoid it is about $2.43 - 1 permanent marker and 1 roll masking tape). Trust me on this. I speak from experience here.

The ingredients are what you'd expect for a stock (celery, carrots and onions). The spices (thyme, bay, salt, and parsley) are kept very light. I was surprised at the absence of pepper, but as tempted as I was to put it in, I didn't. I am so very proud.

As is my habit, I gathered all the ingredients together, prepped them according to the directions, then added them along with the water to the stock pot. I skinned the onions, even though you don't need to do this -- I decided I wanted to see how pale this stock was going to get. Adding onions skins to your stock will darken it (sometimes significantly). I just chopped the vegetables -- since they were not for serving, I wasn't careful in regards to regularity or shape. This, in part, is what makes this recipe so quick to make.

My pot wouldn't quite hold 14 cups of water; so I settled for 10 and was ready to add more water when/if the level reduced. I have three stock pots - all of which are about the same size. I've been told I already have too many pots and pans (and dishes, and kitchen gegaws, and kitchen appliances, and so on and so forth) so I strongly doubt bringing a *bigger* pot into the kitchen would garner any kind of approval. As I was preparing this I did wonder if I could make this in the crockpot instead of on the stove top (as my crock pot would easily hold the 14 cups of water + ingredients)... but my goal was to prepare the recipe as closely to as written as possible. So...

I put it on the stove, brought it to a very gentle boil, then covered it and reduced the heat. After a few minutes I realized why the instructions say cover but not completely. Once I got the over-boil cleaned up, I moved it to a new burner and started again. I am happy to say that there was no scum to remove from the top of the pot. Maybe because it was so croweded, or maybe it all came out in the overboil; I don't know. I've always hated skimming scum off the top of stock. It feels very wasteful, somehow.

The chicken boiled gently for about an hour. It made the house smell great. Because my pot was small, I flipped the chicken over at about the 1/2 hour mark and added some more water to the pot. The level of water didn't reduce as much as I thought it would; but then the gentle boil didn't produce a lot of steam.

There's lots of blog posts out there about how to make great stock. A common trend seems to be to really squeeze the vegetables when they're strained from the liquid. Following this advice, I set up three bowls. One for the stock (once strained), one for the chicken, and one for the vegetables.

I turned the left-over vegetables into a near puree inside my strainer; working them over until my hands ached and the remains were nearly bone-dry. While not very appetizing to look at, it did make discarding the vegetables easier, as by the time I was done there was very little liquid left to leak out into the trash and, eventually, onto my stocking feet; where, if there is any trash liquid, it is inevitably drawn.

I put the whole chicken in another bowl to sit and cool before skinning and deboning it. Note to self: patience is a lesson easily learned when the alternative is burnt fingers.

The chicken is still very tasty and moist and cooked through. I'll be using it throughout the week in other dishes and trying to remember to get the bits I don't use into the freezer before the week's end. Note to self: Waste not, want not.

I then covered the stock and placed in the fridge, where it quickly formed a skin. The stock is a pale golden color (I love my clear Pyrex bowls, ... and my blue Pyrex bowls, ... and well - I have a lot of bowls in my kitchen).

This recipe was indeed the simplest recipe I've ever followed to make chicken stock on the stove; but it doesn't differ very much from my method of making chicken stock in the crock pot (except there I use mostly cooked bones, necks, backs, and organ meats with a few choice vegetables and some seasonings... in other words - whatever's wilted in the fridge). For this recipe none of the vegetables were wilted--I even went out and bought fresh. For me this is pretty revolutionary.

I like having stock in my fridge/freezer. I love making soups and using it as a base for grain dishes (like the rice and polenta I mentioned previously), and in stir-frys or to deglaze a pan. Note to self: If freezing it in ice-cube trays again, this time remember to label the ice cube tray. Chicken stock in soda is ... unappealing.

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