“What’s that sound? It sounds like a foghorn,” my wife yells from somewhere in the house.
I lift my head from the pillow and yell back, “It is a foghorn.” We have not heard foghorns since we shared a room together in San Francisco several years ago. This will be a good day to make chicken stock.
With the aid of coffee, I drive the Butter Bitch to the airport at an earlier hour than I usually rise on a Sunday and make my way to our farmer’s market. The market will not open for another hour, so I seat myself in a nearby coffee shop with window seats that give me a good view of two vegetable stands and a cheese booth. More coffee, a piece of rugelach, the Sunday funnies and the cafe’s copy of “How to Spot a Bastard by His Star Sign” keep me company until the market opens.
Preparing food results in some degree of waste, even if that waste ends up in a composter. The purpose of making stock is to create a base for other dishes, but the process also extracts valuable nutrients. What was a neccessity when I first learned the recipe now is a luxury.
I buy an onion, leeks and a fennel bulb for the chicken stock, select eggs and several meats from Skagit River Ranch, and assemble enough vegetables to make salads, stir-fries, and snacks during the eight days I will spend home alone. Skagit River’s chicken cooler has been picked clean by the time I got to them, a sign of their continued popularity. I am pleased to spot green garlic (also known as scapes) at three different locations and decide to incorporate the tasty garlic stalks into my lunch. Once home, I put away my groceries and assemble the ingredients for what will become a rich thick stock.
My chicken stock recipe is another word-of-mouth recipe passed to me by a friend, M., in Portland 15 years ago. The recipe is simple: Take a chicken carcass with a bit of meat, but as little fat as possible and place it in a stock pot with chopped up celery, onion, and carrot. Cover the ingredients with water and boil for as many hours as you can spare. My plans are to situate a rain barrel, catch up on reading, and continue unpacking. (We moved three months ago and still have a few unpacked boxes in the back bedroom.)
I start with three chicken carcasses (two Rosie and one Skagit River) leftover from previous dinners.
These had some back meat and bits and some chunks that had not been removed from the wings or thighs. This meat should be scraped off and saved to make chicken soup with the stock, or may be left on the bones. I have heard second-hand from a friend that Julia Childs recommends against using roast chickens to make stock, because roasting burns the bones and the meat. I know that the meat was not burned (I used enough butter to ensure that), but I’m not sure about the bones. I suspect that roasting alters the flavor and nutritional value of the stock, but I won’t know until I make stock using fresh, uncooked (or pan cooked) meat.
For reference, the method I use is closer to the Italian method listed in Trattoria Cooking than the French methods detailed in The Saucier’s Apprentice. The Italian method is simple, unlike the complexity of the French system, and my M.’s method is a suitable adaptation for roasted carcasses. M. is a first-generation Italian-American whose father was a chef, which makes me wonder if hers is a traditional recipe or not.
I roughly chop one yellow onion with the outermost layer removed, but I leave much of the skin (including some that is a golden brown), curious to try out the suggestion that the onion skin adds to the color of the broth.
Two carrots are scrubbed, tipped and tailed but not peeled. Carrot skin has a lot of vitamins that the boiling will extract.
Normally, I add celery (for bitterness and acidity to add structure to the broth) to make the stock, but it’s not in season. Instead of buying organic celery from California, I have three leeks and a small fennel bulb from the farmer’s market. I will discover that the fennel bulb does not add much flavor.
The various ingredients are assembled in a 3-gallon stock pot. I use a 2-gallon stock pot when I boil a single carcass, but the additional carcasses and the extra vegetables require a larger pot. I fill the pot with water until it is within two inches of the pot (a finger length roughly). If the ingredients aren’t covered with water, you need a larger pot.
I cover the pot with a lid and bring the water to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat until a steady boil is achieved.
Every half hour, I remove the lid and use a broad, shallow spoon to skim off some of the fat that has pooled on the surface. If you don’t remove the fat, it will congeal when you refrigerate or freeze the broth. After skimming the broth, I give the contents of the pot a good stir and replace the lid.
Making stock works best if you need to do other things that will keep you near the house, like change drain pipes so you can install a rain barrel, wash your laundry, or read one of the unread books that are due at the library. The preparation takes little time, but in the words of M., “You should cook the hell out of the bird.”
After 5 or 6 hours, I turn off the heat and strain the liquid into two gallon pot to let the liquid settle and cool briefly.
I wait for the fat to congeal on the surface and skim off as much as I can. I left too much fat on the chicken, probably in the form of the skin on the chicken wings, which is why the cooled stock to the left shows clumps of fat. The stock is tasty and thick, and will be very good in chicken-noodle soup made with handmade egg noodles (my father-in-law’s recipe). The stock goes into the refrigerator to cool. My library book is unread, but I have chicken stock and the rain barrel is installed under the southeast spout and my laundry is clean. Since early morning, the weather has changed from fog to sun to clouds to rain and now settles on sun. A typical Seattle day.