Let’s talk about stock
A confession: I’m not a huge fan of soups. I have a hard time getting behind a liquidous dinner unless that dinner is in the form of a chocolate milkshake. There’s just something so soupy about soups. My mother blames my lifelong soup indifference on an evil babysitter that terrified me as a young child, and would feed some sort of questionable soup to the daycare kids on a regular basis. Regardless of my early life soup trauma, I’ve grown to appreciate the dish on my own terms. I generally favor stews, stoups (thanks, Rachel Ray) and giant bowls of Chinese noodles over anything consisting of just broth or a bunch of blended vegetables, but I’m growing, ok?
This chicken soup takes a little extra effort to make it extra delicious. If you’ve never made stock before, this is one application where it truly shines, and I think you should give it a try. Stock is another one of those necessities of yesteryear that has fallen by the wayside as we’ve grown accustomed to the convenience of the modern supermarket (along with two of my other favorite food pastimes, canning and bread making). For my stock-making endeavor, I was fortunate enough to have two turkey carcasses for starting materials, tucked away in the freezer since Thanksgiving. My mom chuckled a bit and my uncle gave me some grief when I asked if I could take the Thanksgiving turkey remains back to Iowa. To an outsider, this seems like a truly silly practice. It is so much easier to pitch the bones in the trash, and it takes some effort to get in the habit of making anything from scratch. But deep down we know we shouldn’t settle for the stuff in the can with the blue label, and that making stock is actually pretty hip – it is frugal, green, and delicious.
Stock and broth are different on a fundamental level. Broth is made from the juices of the meat, and stock is made by cooking the bones and connective tissues for many hours at a low heat, releasing the collagen. The final result also has a drastically different consistency – broth is a liquid, while stock once cooled will gel like a delicious bowl of poultry-flavored Jell-O. A little creepy at first, but the gelling lets you know the bones have done their work. Stock is worth your time because it is much more rich and delicious than broth, and you can control the sodium content and ingredient list from start to finish. And it totally impresses the ladies.
One piece of advice – stock takes time, and if you’re going to make a go of it, save several chicken or turkey carcasses so you can make a big batch all at once. Also you should not start the stock pot at 6 o’clock at night, because you will finish at approximately 1 a.m. (This was not my idea.) You’re also going to need to buy some cheesecloth and a few large containers or freezer bags for long-term storage. Once the stock is made, chicken noodle soup comes together quickly. A few more spices, some cooked chicken and simmered veggies, and a few noodles at the very end. Bust out the Zestas and you’re ready to eat.
Adapted from Alton Brown
Yield: 16-20 cups, depending the quantity of starting ingredients and the size of your stockpot
6-8 pounds poultry carcasses
2 large onions, quartered
6-8 carrots, peeled and cut in half
4 ribs celery, cut in half
2-3 tsp dried thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic (we used the stuff preserved in olive oil in a jar) or 2-3 cloves, crushed
2-3 gallons cold water, enough to cover the carcasses in a 12 or 16 quart stock pot
Make the Stock
1. Add all ingredients to a 12 or 16 quart stock pot, and cover with water. Place a steamer basket or smaller pot lid into the stock pot to hold the bones under water.
2. Cook the stock on high heat until bubbles begin to rise to the surface. Turn the heat to medium low, and maintain a gentle simmer.
3. Skim the scum from the top of the stock pot every 10-15 minutes for the first hour, and then every half hour for the next 2 hours. Simmer uncovered for a total of 6-8 hours, adding additional water as needed to keep the bones covered. When bones break easily, the stock is finished.
4. After the simmering, strain the stock through a colander or fine mesh strainer into another large pot or heat-proof container, removing all solid vegetable/bone pieces from the stock. Cool immediately until below 40 °F in a sink full of ice (or just stick it outside if you live in Iowa and it is January). Refrigerate overnight.
5. In the morning, scrape the solidified fat off the top of the stock. The stock should resemble a loose Jell-O consistency if you’ve done everything correctly. At this point if several small pieces of vegetable remain in the stock, re-warm the stock slightly and filter through cheesecloth.
Store stock in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer up to 3 months. We froze two 8-cup containers of stock for soup, and kept one 4-cup container in the fridge for a stew we made later that week. Bring the stock to a boil for 2 minutes before using in recipes.
Adapted from several sources, but kind of made up on the fly. Pretty similar to Tyler Florence without the initial vegetable sweat (although that may be something to try for next time).
Serves 4, with leftovers
8 cups chicken stock
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
1-2 stalks of celery, chopped (we are not celery fans here, and 1 stalk was enough for us)
1.5 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 bay leaf
2-3 cups cooked chicken meat, cut into smallish pieces (leftover rotisserie chicken worked nicely)
4-6 ounces dry egg noodles (depending on how noodley you like your soup)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12-16 ounces of water or broth, depending on how liquidous you like your soup
Herbs that would be nice, but we did not have on hand: fresh or dried thyme and/or tarragon, fresh parsley for serving.
Make the Soup
1. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and add the chicken, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs. The meat will shred slightly as the cooking continues.
2. Add the vegetables and bring to a simmer for three to four minutes. Add more water or broth at this time if needed.
3. Add the noodles and turn up the heat slightly to a low boil. Boil until the noodles are soft, seven to eight minutes.
Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley if desired, and plenty of saltine crackers.
Edited to add: I’ve been asked about where stock/broth should be interchanged in a recipe, and I’m definitely not an expert, but I will offer an opinion. I think for recipes (soups, whatever) where you are going to have a significant number of additional herbs & spices, stock is a good option. Depending on the consistency of your stock, I’d say 2 parts stock to 1 part water/broth is going to be a starting place. (Like I said, ours was a loose Jell-O consistency, and the soup used about 8 cups stock and 3 or so cups of water.) The stock is not really thicker than broth when cooked in a soup, but it does have a heavier and richer “mouth feel” due to the high concentration of proteins. If you are going to make a very simple broth soup, I think the stock may be too plain for this application, and you may want to consider a high-quality commercial broth, or make your own broth (basically the pan juices from cooking a piece of meat).