It’s that time of year again that I start thinks of soups – nice warming soups for these cooler days. And, of course, the basic building block of soup is stock.
Recently, I was reading Serious Eats chicken stock experiments. Unlike my usual slap dash way of boiling up some chicken bones with a few hunks of veg, the author of this Serious Eats article did things systematically, taste testing each batch. These were the variations: different cuts of the bird, with or without meat, with or without bones, hunks versus finely chopped veg, sautéed veg, various ratios of meat/bone to water, cooking times, to skim or not to skim… The resulting stocks were evaluated for colour, gelatinous content, and above all taste. You have to respect all that effort that went into the testing.
This is what I learned:
- the best textured stock is made with a gelatinous cut (such as wings), but the best tasting stock comes from breast meat,
- vegetables should be diced into a mirepoix and not sautéed as sautéing produces a pronounced vegetable flavour in the resulting stock rather than an intense chicken flavour,
- the basic ratio of meat to water is 1:2 (i.e. for every kilo of meat, 2 litres of water), but the flavour intensity is upped significantly if twice as much meat is added, making the ratio 1:1 (i.e. for every kilo of meat, 1 litre of water),
- not to overcook – i.e. 1 and a half hours at a very low simmer is best with no need to skim,
- salt is NOT required in the stock making, which was a big surprise.
So, with 4 kilos of mixed (leg and breast) bones with some meat attached in the freezer, it was time to test Serious Eat’s experiments.
Basic Chicken Stock
Freeze the stock in containers – a great way to have stock on hand to make soup any time you want. A restaurant trick to get a more gelatinous stock is to add softened gelatine to the final stock, reheating until mixed and then cooled before freezing.
Yields about 4 litres of stock
- 4kg chicken bones
- 300g onions (about 3 medium)
- 250g carrots (about 3-4)
- 6 medium garlic cloves
- 1-2 stalks celery leaf (or substitute 1 stalk of celery)
- 2-3 stalks parsley
- 4 litres water
Put the chicken bones into a large stockpot. Prepare your vegetables. Peel and chop the onions. Top and tail the carrots, but it is not necessary to peel. Chop the carrots into small dice. Peel the garlic, cut in half and remove the bitter core. Place the garlic flat on the cutting board and bash with the flat end of your knife. Finely chop the celery leaf (selino in Greece) and the parsley. Add all these vegetable ingredients to the stockpot.
Pour in the water, stir a little and put it on high heat until a few bubbles begin to form. You will notice that the stock is already beginning to colour.
Immediately lower the heat to a simmer, using a heat diffuser if you have one. Stir occasionally, but let it cook for about 1 and a half hours. Strain through a fine meshed strainer and put into containers, letting it cool without their lids. The colour should be a deep yellow.
Pick off the meat from the bones to use in another recipe or in chicken noodle soup. Discard the bones and the vegetables. Once the stock has cooled, seal the container and put into the freezer. Note that any fat will go to the top and can be removed once it is defrosted.