Chicken Stock: The basics
Fond = Foundation.
Every building needs a solid foundation and every dish needs to start with one as well. Sure we live in the 21st century where rotisserie chickens from the local store can stand in for the roast chicken on a busy weeknight and you can **shudder** buy vegetables pre cut so you don't have to hurt your wee little fingers cutting celery and onions when you get home exhausted from another day on the gerbil wheel. Yes, I can buy fairly decent chicken stock in the store. Organic and Free Range if I so desire, but I can promise you with my hand held on my heart and no toes and fingers crossed...homemade chicken stock is easy to make and it tastes oh so, oh so, much better than the stuff in the box or the can.
Last Saturday I had a class at CSCA on Soups and Stocks. We were able to talk about the theory behind making a stock. The problem with a three hour class is that we really don't have the time to make a proper stock.
I decided that since I really needed to restock the freezer myself I would record the steps as I developed the stock and leave it here for a reference.
When it's time for me to replenish my freezer I raid the larder and see how many necks and backs I have stashed away while cutting up whole chickens. I had a turkey carcass from Thanksgiving. I had a package of wings that was getting a wee bit freezer burned. I've bought backs and necks before at Whole Foods so I stopped by and picked up 10 pounds at about $1.00 per pound. All in all I ended up with about 15 pounds of bones.
Now there are two schools of culinary thought when it comes to chicken stock. White stock is made using bones that are not browned first. You can make white stock with either veal bones or chicken bones, I wouldn't recommend making it with beef bones. I'm firmly in the brown stock camp. I like the extra flavour, colour and richness that roasting the bones brings to the table. It also has an added advantage of less scum to skim off, but we'll get to that later.
I lay all the bones out on sheet pans and roast them for 30 - 40 minutes at 350 being careful to turn them once or twice and ensuring good colour without burning. When they come out of the oven I pour off the fat that has rendered and let it settle. If anything good appears on the bottom I siphon it off, but most of the time this is 100% fat. AS you can see I was able to siphon off about 2 cups right off the top. Of course once the stock is made, strained and chilled, a bit more fat will rise to the top to be skimmed off, but this early step of roasting the bones also makes it a bit easier to get rid of the fat.
I set up my giant stock pot on my lowest burner.
I know my range very well and out of the 6 burners i know the middle front burner gives me the most control when I need to simmer for a long time. As extra insurance I use a flame tamer ring as well. This assures that I can walk away for an hour or two at a time and not worry about the finding the stock that was gently simmering now at a rolling boil. In go the bones.
While the bones were roasting I also prepared my aromatics. The general rule of thumb is 20% aromatics by weight to the amount of bones you have. In this case, 15 pounds of bones means 3 pounds of aromatics. The other general rule is for the aromatics themselves. 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery. I had onions and I also had leeks so I used them both. Be sure you clean your leeks throughly first to remove any sand. When I cut one of the leeks open to wash it I loved this cool pattern inside. Peel your carrots, peel your onions. I know plenty of people will say why bother, but I believe it lends an off taste to your stock. This is not the time to clear out your vegetable drawer and throw in the dregs of the contents, limp celery, molding onions, a red onion piece that had been hiding in the back that is now sprouting. You are making your stock, your foundation, the liquid you are going to use to make gorgeous soups, sauces, stews, braises, tortellini en brodo, now is the time to buy gorgeous produce and treat it kindly.
I also set up my bouquet garni to add. A traditional set of aromatics, bouquet garni is comprised of parsley stems, thyme stems and bay leaf. You can add other items depending on your fancy. You can be all anal and wrap it in cheesecloth and tie it with kitchen twine to remove later, but my feeling is since you're dumping this whole lot later to strain it, why bother?
I do roast my aromatics as well to add a further dimension to the stock with their caramalized flavours.
Once I am done with the sheet pans I also pour some water on them and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits to add.
Now I cover the bones with cold water. Always start with cold water, bringing the temperature up gradually allows the bones to release all of the collagen and flavour slowly. It gives you less impurities in the stock. Turn on the heat and put the lid on slightly askew to allow it to begin.
A scum may form on the top.
Skim this off and discard it. I have found that the pre-roasting of the bones tends to reduce the amount of scum you need to remove. Once the scum stops forming, add your roasted aromatics and your bouquet garni. Now you can almost walk away for a few hours. Set your temperature so that you are at a very gentle simmer. Ocassional bubbles should be breaking the surface, but no rolling boils are allowed. Allow the stock to simmer like this for 5 - 6 hours. Sure it takes time, but you don't have to babysit it. Just check in once in a while and verify the level of simmer.
Once it is ready I ladle off as much as I can from the top and put it in the large lexan storage containers I have and then I pour the rest through a collander lined with damp cheesecloth which is placed over a bowl. This ensures I get everything out of the aromatics and the bones as I press down hard with a wooden spoon.
The key now is to get this stock out of the danger zone. The danger zone is 41 - 140 degrees. In that temperature zone bacteria multiply at a furious rate. Tossing this much hot liquid straight into the fridge would also increase the internal temp of your fridge effectively putting everything in it into the danger zone as well. What I do is use freezer packs, you know, the ones you use in your cooler. I toss them in a ziploc, squeeze all the air out and toss them right into the stock. In about 40 minutes or so they are cool enough to now cover and put in the fridge.
After they chill overnight the stock is removed, the fat skimmed off and it is portioned into containers for the deep freeze.
Months of goodness ahead.