Saturday, January 12, 2008
Making your own chicken stock is not only so much cheaper than buying it at the store, but so much healthier, too. Most people don’t realize it, but when you make broth with bones you have a really good source of minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, and potassium. In addition you get gelatin, which is a great digestive aid. You get none of these things from commercial broth, but you will get unwanted things like MSG. Making your own stock is so amazingly easy. I have tried perfecting the art of broth for so many years now and have come to the realization that simpler is better. I don’t worry about special herbs and seasonings or veggies, like carrots, celery and onion. Most of the time I just put some chicken in a stock pot and cover with water. How easy is that! You can add any of those things you want, but don’t put yourself out. Here are a couple of things you will want to know before you do this. One, the longer this cooks the better, so begin early in the day. Second, you will want to chill it overnight before using it to skim off the fat (not because fat’s bad, but because soup with a lot of fat doesn’t have a good mouth feel), so make a day ahead. You can use any chicken parts you want as long as you have bones and some skin and the more cartilage you have, the more gelatin you will get. Jewish women add chicken feet to their broth for this reason. Now some sources say you can reserve the meat for other uses when done with the stock, but other sources say that the longer you cook the chicken the more flavor is drained. I am frugal and if I make stock I know I will throw the chicken out so I use parts that I wouldn’t use otherwise. My family eats a lot of chicken so I buy whole chickens for $.82/lb and cut the parts off that we want – I cut the breasts off for meals that call for boneless breasts and I cut the legs, thighs and wings off for other meals. Compare that to strictly using boneless chicken breasts for $2.49/lb. I am left with a carcass that has a decent amount of bones, a bit of meat on the back, a generous amount of skin, and the wing tips. So I feel I’m getting my broth for free since it’s just the leftovers that I’m using for broth. If you roast chicken for dinner you can do the same thing, take off all the meat that you want to eat and reserve the carcass for broth. Roasted chicken makes an especially yummy broth. I mentioned this at Thanksgiving, for some reason turkey stock is even better than chicken stock, maybe because the turkey roasts for so much longer; it’s the brown skin that gives such a good flavor. Place your chicken parts in a large stock pot/dutch oven, one that holds at least 4 quarts of water with the chicken. I simmer two chicken carcasses at a time and end up with 2 quarts of broth. Cover chicken with filtered water and 2 tablespoons vinegar, an acidic medium is what leaches the minerals out of the bones. This is also true in our bodies, when our acid/alkaline balance is too acidic, we lose minerals out of our bones. What makes us so acidic? Sugar is the big culprit, along with processed grains. There is more to bone health than drinking your milk! Don’t worry, acidic things we eat, like vinegar and citrus, don’t make our bodies acidic, on the contrary, they help to alkalinize us. If you have kids at home, try this neat experiment. Get a chicken bone (we used a leg bone from a roast chicken dinner) and try to bend it gently, notice how stiff it is. Place it in a jar and cover with white vinegar. Let the bone soak for 2-3 days and then replace the vinegar and let soak 2 more days. After the 4th or 5th day of soaking, take the bone out and dry off. Now try bending it, notice how rubbery it is. The vinegar has dissolved the calcium in the bone leaving only the collagen, a rubbery substance. We don’t want this happening to our bones in our body, that’s why it is SO important to eat right. Anyway, I digress. So we covered the chicken with water and vinegar. Bring to a boil and skim the foam that rises and discard. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 6 to 24 hours. I start mine in the morning and let it go until about 10 o’clock that night. I have heard that some people keep it in the crockpot overnight. I tried this and wasn’t happy with the results. A note on simmering – simmering is not turning the heat all the way down, it is a low heat, but you can still see little bubbles in the broth. You will see the liquid evaporate; this is okay. The more it reduces, the better it tastes. I usually end up with 2 quarts, when I started with 4. You can always reconstitute it with water, if you like. When you are done simmering you place a wire mesh strainer in a bowl and strain the broth. Throw out the bones and meat. (I put them back in the empty pan until they’re cool, I don’t want to melt my trash bag.) Chill it and then skim the fat off the next day. Your broth should be jelled; this means there is a lot of good gelatin in it. At this point you can store it in the refrigerator or freezer. It will keep for 3 days in the fridge, but you can keep it indefinitely if you reboil it every 3 days. Some people will reduce it down further at this point and pour into an ice cube tray and freeze to save space. Then when they need broth they just grab some cubes and add some water. Notice we didn’t use any seasonings. You will want to salt this to taste when you use it. Since it reduces down quite a bit it would be too salty if we salted at the beginning. Feel free to add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley, etc. Just know that you don’t have to do this to get a quality stock. I only add those other things if I’m going to make plain chicken noodle soup, for some reason it needs all the flavor it can get. But if I’m making Gumbo or Chicken and Dumplings, for example, I don’t. The possibilities are endless here, there are so many soups that are easy to make at home, and with your homemade stock they will be better for you, soups like Chicken Noodle, Chicken and Dumplings, White Chili, Tomato Florentine, Gumbo, Cream of Broccoli, Sweet Potato, Minestrone, and Chicken Enchilada are some that come to mind. Broth will add flavor to many dishes. I personally use this stock to make rice pilaf and orzo risotto (a faux risotto) also and I have started drinking it daily just for it’s benefits. It is so delicious and warms you on a cold winter day.