Chicken stock is one of the cornerstones of my cooking. The object of the exercise is a clear liquid filled with flavour and goodness. It is a vital ingredient in soups, broths and sauces.
Carefully cooked to a sparkling result and with the addition of a few judiciously chosen herbs or seasonal greens, a pinch of salt and pepper and this ceases to be chicken stock and becomes a sophisticated bowl of health food.
If you wish to make a stronger stock suitable for more richly flavoured sauces and gravies, you can make a roast chicken stock .
The important points are:
• Start with good quality ingredients consisting of chicken bones, raw or cooked, or a combination of both
• Frozen chicken bones work perfectly and in this instance, due to the long cooking time, can be used directly from frozen.
• I also freeze left over carcasses from a cooked chicken, wings raw or cooked, in other words any bits of chicken raw or cooked with the exception of the liver and wing tips. The liver and wing tips should never go into the stock pot, as over long cooking they will make the stock bitter.
• This is a form of stock piling of the bones and bits until you have enough to make a pot of stock. You can of course make stock with just 1 chicken carcass and still get a worthwhile quantity.
• Chicken necks are also wonderful in a stock as is the gizzard, those these can be hard to get nowadays.
• Place the bones in a saucepan they fit into snugly. Leave 4cm free at the top of the saucepan so as the stock does not spill out of the pot.
• If your saucepan is too big, you may have too much water ending up with a stock that is too thin in flavour.
• Even if you use a saucepan that is too big and are careful to just cover the bones with water, the fact that the level of the liquid is low in the pot can cause the steam to recirculate rather than evaporate and this may cause the stock to be cloudy.
• The suggested herbs are, parsley stalks, thyme stalks and a small bay leaf. The vegetables are onions, carrots, leek and a little celery, all peeled and diced. A few black peppercorns may also be added.
• Cold water is always used to draw the flavour out of the solid ingredients and into the liquid.
• I rarely add salt to stock when it is cooking.
• All stocks are brought to simmering point and cooked uncovered at a bare simmer to obtain a clear well flavoured stock. If you have difficulty controlling the heat under your pot, use a heat diffuser mat to achieve the gentle breaking of bubbles on the surface of the liquid.
• The stock should never boil. When it boils, a couple of things happen. It reduces and as this happens it becomes stronger and looses its subtle charm. Also the boiling loosens tiny particles of flesh from the bones and vegetables, resulting in a stock that may be cloudy and with these tiny particles floating in it.
• A cloudy stock is not the end of the world and is fine to use, but if you are careful with the gentle simmering of the stock, you can end up with a deliciously flavoured liquid that is almost as sparklingly clear as a consommé
• Once the stock comes to the gentlest simmer, 2 hours cooking should be sufficient cooking time to achieve a deliciously flavoured result.
• Taste the stock on a spoon, blowing on it in the old fashioned way as it will be very hot. Underwhelmed? Taste another spoonful while adding a few grains of salt to the spoon.....a revelation I hope.
• The resulting stock is gently strained through a fine sieve and allowed to settle. Any fat will rise to the surface, to be skimmed off using a large spoon. You can also use a maigret, one of those French ceramic degreasing jugs. If you can lay your hands on an old fashioned "skimming bowl", the type used in dairys to separate the cream from the milk, then you are really in clover.
• The other effective way to skim the fat off stock is to place the cold stock in a fridge overnight and next day to skim off the solid or semi solid fat.
• The cooled stock will keep in the fridge for up to three days.
• The stock also freezes very well. I use plastic containers such as spotlessly clean yoghurt tubs or milk containers for this purpose. Make sure the stock is cold before decanting it into plastic containers.
• The frozen stock will still be fine and safe to use after 6 months, but as always with the freezer, the sooner something comes out, the better it will be
• Freeze the stock in a mixture of small and larger containers, so you have the correct amount to defrost for a particular recipe.
• A richer and darker flavoured stock is obtained by roasting the raw or cooked chicken bones to a rich golden colour before making the stock. Therefore in the case of the cooked bones from a roast, they will be twice roasted. Lovely. I call this Roast Chicken Stock. This stock is used for darker sauces and to accompany the more robustly flavoured meats such as beef and venison.
• The degreased stock can be reduced by as much as three quarters, or more if you wish, to achieve a deeply flavoured "chicken glaze". The more you reduce or boil it down, the more concentrated the flavour will be. This liquid when chilled will set to a rubber jelly and in this case you have just made your own stock cube. Bravo. This can then be stored in a covered container in the fridge where it will keep for up to 3 months or can also be frozen. You can cut it or tear it into manageable pieces and these little lozenges of concentrated chicken flavour can be used as they are to perk up a dull gravy or soup, or diluted to taste with boiling water to reconstitute a stock.
Chicken Stock recipe
- 2-3 raw or cooked chicken carcasses or a mixture of both
- 3.4L (6 Pints) cold water, approx
- 1 sliced onion
- 1 leek, split in two
- 1 outside stick of celery or 1 lovage leaf
- 1 sliced carrot
- few parsley stalks
- sprig of thyme
- 1 small bay leaf
- 6 black peppercorns
- Chop or break up the carcasses as much as possible.
- Put all the ingredients into a saucepan that they fit into snugly. Cover with cold water. Bring slowly up to the boil and skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon.
- Simmer uncovered and very gently for 2 -3 hours.
- Allow the stock to sit for 20 minutes before straining to allow any loose particles of meat or vegetables to fall to the bottom of the saucepan.
- Strain and remove any remaining fat. If you need a stronger flavour, boil down the liquid in an open pan to reduce by one-third or one-half the volume.
- Do not add salt.
Roast Chicken Stock
Roast the raw or cooked bones or carcasses in a moderate oven 180c / 350f / gas 4 for approximately 30 minutes or until they have attained a rich golden colour, and then proceed with the recipe as listed above.