I am kind of at a loss to figure out what to do with this blog. There are lots of cooking blogs out there, and I still see myself as a student of sorts when it comes to cooking.
Yes, my friends and family all think I am a great cook, but there are so many things I have never made, and my knife skills, among others, are lacking. My food isn’t nearly as pretty as I would like, and I rarely have time or cash to cook the things I really want to.
What I am very, very good at, though, is checking the grocery ads every week, and trying to stock up on things when they are on sale (meat, in particular). This would be easier if I had a standalone freezer- which I was going to buy in the next few weeks, but the car repairs that are in my near future will probably eat up all my extra cash.
I also like having things made and frozen that help get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour- I don’t get home until after 6 most weeknights.
I have to plan meals carefully to use up the produce and other perishables I buy (I especially hate throwing away half of the parsley and dill and cilantro. I wish they sold them in smaller bunches!).
I love a good roasted chicken. I have that nearly every week at my mom’s for Shabbat dinner, though, so when whole chickens or chicken parts go on super-sale (less than .69 a pound for bone-in, or 1.99 for boneless), I try and make good use of it.
Boneless breasts get vacuum-sealed (I bought a machine for $30 at ALDI a few months ago. The bags are costlier than plastic wrap, but I don’t have to worry about freezer burn when I forget everything that is packed in my freezer) two in a package, or used for chicken salads or pot pie. I save boneless thighs for stir fries, because they are much better in that application than breasts- which tend to be dry, no matter how you cook them, and need a more substantial sauce if you are going to cut them up before cooking.
If you are like me, and like to make extra work for yourself on occasion, you can cut up whole chickens- always cheaper than parts, unless there is a sale- yourself, but if you live in a decent sized metropolis, you probably don’t have to, if you watch the sales. It is a good skill to have, however, and it seems to impress people when you can bone out breasts and stuff like that.
I usually make chicken stock out of leg quarters or whole birds. Homemade stock/broth (the only difference, really, is the amount of meat vs. bones you use. I make what is technically broth, but it works fine for any application you would use “stock” for) makes everything taste better. No one’s cold was ever cured by boullion cubes, I know for sure!
This is how I make my chicken stock/broth. I am not going to call it a recipe, because it doesn’t really require one. This will make about six quarts of stock; you can halve the recipe if you wish, but this stuff takes all day to cook, practically, and though it is easy to make, it just makes sense to me to make it in large quantities (also, freezer containers of stock are easier to store than chicken parts)
you will need:
5 pounds (or so) of bone-in chicken parts – if you are using whole chickens, cut them up first- it’s easy; just cut down both sides of the backbone, and then cut each half into quarters above the thigh.
a pound-or-so package of chicken feet (optional for the squeamish, but it really adds to the body of the stock- all those gelatinous structures cook into the stock and are also really good for you, particularly if you have joint issues, like I do)
a few ribs of celery, chopped up into large chunks
ditto for carrots (you can peel them, if you want, but I just scrub them)
ditto for a couple of parsnips
one parsley root, if you can find it, peeled (it’s knobby and pretty dirty) and chopped into a few good sized chunks
a couple of yellow onions, rinsed well and cut in quarters with the skin still attached
a few cloves of garlic– you can leave them unpeeled, but smash them a little with the side of your knife to release the allicin (happy garlic flavor chemical).
a bay leaf
a sprig of thyme, or a couple of good pinches of dried – I only buy fresh herbs (other than parsley, dill and cilantro) when I know I will use most of the package, which is not often. I like the “poultry blend” or “pasta blend” packages, though, because they have a few sprigs of three or four kinds of herbs- much more manageable when you are cooking for two.
about a quarter of a bunch each of dill and parsley (I can only get those huge bunches of parsley and dill- if you can only get them in the little packages like most other herbs, that will be fine, just use the whole thing)
You can make the stock “white” (by not browning the meat first), or “brown” (duh)
If you want a deeper color and flavor for the stock, it really helps to brown the meat first. It’s much easier to skip this step, though.
I usually brown the pieces of chicken in the pot that I will be making the stock in. You can roast them, but I don’t like dirtying another pan, and this way the fond that is created by browning the meat goes into the stock without much extra effort required.If you are using the chicken feet, don’t brown them- it’s too much effort without much reward.
I would also like to mention that I don’t have a big enough stock pot to make the massive quantity of stock this makes, so I usually use two.
So, browning the meat? A little oil in the pot, and a medium-to medium high heat. Don’t cook the chicken all the way through, just enough so it gets nice and toasty on both sides. You will have to do this in batches; I usually brown the chicken in one pot, and put them in the other as they are done. Then I deglaze the pot I browned the chicken in with some water, and split the fond-y liquid between the pots, and redistribute the chicken.
Put enough water in the pot (or pots) to cover the chicken by a few inches, and bring to a bare simmer. By bare simmer, I mean only a *little* bubbly action is going on. To the point that you can barely tell it is cooking. The temperature of a stock cooking should be just under the boiling point- if cooked at a higher temperature, all the stuff in the meat and bones cooks out into the stock too fast and makes it cloudy. As the meat cooks, a bunch of gunk will rise to the top. Skim it off as it comes to the surface. After about a half hour or so, all the gunkiest stuff should be skimmed off; if more seems to be coming up, keep skimming until it looks like it has stopped.
After the initial simmering and skimming, I add the rest of the ingredients. I was recently reading Michael Ruhlman’s book ‘The Elements of Cooking’, though, and it suggests to add the aromatics closer to the end of cooking. I have never had a problem with my stocks, but Mr. Ruhlman is just awesome enough that I may try this the next time I make stock- which will be months from now, as I have a ton in the freezer now.
Let the stock cook (still at a bare simmer) for at least a few hours- I cook mine for three or four, but I like mine nice and reduced. Your house will never smell so awesome. I would buy “simmering chicken stock” air freshener, if they made it. More crud will probably come to the surface, and you should skim, this, too.
When the stock is done, drain it as soon as possible through a cheesecloth lined strainer into another large pot or bowl (or bowls). I like to strain it again, but like I said, I tend to make extra work for myself, and you can skip this step if you want. If you have some way of cooling down the stock quickly (i.e. an ice bath, or the back porch when it is below 40 outside- just make sure to cover the pots/containers well), do, but if not, portion the stock into freezer containers (I like to do mostly quarts, a few pints, and a few ice-cube trays worth for jazzing up sauces and the like), and let cool at room temperature, then refrigerate.
The next day, you should have stock that looks like this:
You can scrape off the fat that has risen to the top, and save it for cooking (onions cooked in schmaltz and matzah balls made with schmaltz are some of life’s most wonderful simple pleasures), or just toss it. But if you throw it out, you are missing out, seriously.
If you took my advice, and both used the chicken feet, and cooked the stock for an extra-long time, you get stock that does this when it’s cold (not frozen, mind you , just cold):
If your stock looks like jello, you have done good!
If you make your own stock, you will never again find yourself eating that awful stuff in a can that claims it is chicken soup again.
Just defrost and bring to a boil, add a little salt, and whatever accoutrements you prefer…
Veggies and little noodles (here, chard and carrots):
Matzah balls and carrots (the recipe for matzah balls is printed on the package of matzah meal):
Or egg noodles, or wontons, or lemon and rice (I will be making avgolemono soon, and will post the recipe I use), or you can use it for the base for any soup, and it will be a trillion times better than anything from a box or a can or a powder. “Musgovian” (using things that must go) soup is one of my favorites. Last time it was a Thai-inspired coconut green curry thing with chard and potatoes:
Soup is the easiest thing to be creative with, and it’s hard to screw it up- at least to where it is inedible.
Stock will keep well frozen; I usually use mine within a few months, but I have found some that was more than six months old, buried in the back of the freezer before, and it tasted fine.
Take *that*, Campbell’s.