I recently ventured into the world of homemade chicken stock. I have to admit, that even though I consider myself a well-versed, educated chef, at home I find stock from a can a perfectly acceptable ingredient in my daily cooking. While I never doubted that homemade was better, when it came down to getting dinner on the table in 30 minutes, convenience won out.
To be fully informed about my recent stock adventure, I should disclose up front that I am on a new “kick” of cooking with ethical awareness. A recent read, Animal Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsglover raised questions of the current food culture in our country. Kingsglover highlighted the disturbing reality that many of us today are not aware of where our food comes from, how it is produced, or how our purchasing habits affect the industry. Since reading her wonderful book, full of fun antidotes, family recipes and general food knowledge, I am making a conscious effort to buy more products locally and use seasonal produce. As a part of this whole “ethical” cooking kick, I am trying to use up all the food I purchase. I have never enjoyed throwing away food, but we all know how fast that celery or basil goes moldy hidden in the crisper drawers. And so as part of my attempts to be more “culinarily” aware, I am trying to be more aware of my own fridge and the food in it.
Back to the chicken stock….the reason that I decided to take the plunge was to put my cooking where my mouth was and use up the two rotisserie chickens left over from some quick mid-week dinners. In preparation, I pulled my favorite “how to” cookbook from the shelf and found, very dishearteningly, that chicken stock requires pounds and pounds of raw chicken parts … I thought chicken stock called for the spare bones of a chicken. Distrusting my first cookbook, I looked further. Book after book, I found recipes calling for full chickens to be boiled just for the stock! Somehow I felt like all these books were missing the point. What happened to using up my leftovers? I decided that I would just do it my way. I was making chicken water, how hard could this really be?
I made a simple stock, but for my first attempt, I thought the results would perk up any soup just fine. To start my “using up my chicken bones” stock, I chopped one large onion and sautéed in a tablespoon of oil. For the next step, I took some advice from the classic recipes and chopped up my chicken bones into 2 inch pieces. While this is not the easiest task, especially without the suggested cleaver (definitely not in pastry’s chef’s knife collection,) chopping the chicken allows a quick sauté of the bones to really intensify the flavor. The last addition to this simple stock was four cups of water, a couple of bay leaves, salt and pepper. I brought everything to a boil and then simmered, covered, for an hour. I did take advice from the cookbooks to allow the stock to cool completely in the fridge before attempting to use. By allowing the stock to cool, the fat that settled on top solidified somewhat and could easily be scrapped off. If you have ever attempted to “defat” or skim a fatty liquid, you know what an endless nightmare it can be (especially if you happen to have OCD tendencies, such as myself).
Overall, I was happy with my first stock and even more delighted with my first homemade chicken tortellini soup. Between the two rotisserie chickens I used for bones, I was able to provide four full dinners as well as ample soup leftovers. While I do not claim to be the perfect home cook or even grocery shopper, I do appreciate Kingsglover’s attempt to make us all more aware. I did not help save a small farm today or cut down on shipping costs of bananas from South America, but I thought twice about my menu for the evening. I looked in my fridge and used leftovers as my inspiration. To me, that’s a good first step.
Read my Chicken Stock update here!