My house smells like chicken stock right now. Scratch that... My house smells like ridiculously awesome chicken stock right now. Perhaps my very favorite miracle of cooking is homemade stock. I am a woman who buys more than her fair share of bulk-store rotisserie chicken. (It's juicy, perfectly cooked, and $5/bird every time. I can't justify the time or money to buy a chicken and then do what it takes to make it that delicious when having it done for me is $5...) This means that, at least a couple times each month, I have some lovely chicken carcasses with which to make stock. I pull the meat off a couple carcasses, vacuum-seal breasts in one bag and dark meat in another (either to freeze or to re-therm later via sous vide). Everything else goes in the pot. A bundle of carrots. A bundle of celery. A red and a white onion. Bay leaves and parsley. Large handful of black peppercorns. Fill a 20-quart stockpot with all of that and then cold water to reach 1" below the rim, simmer for 24-36 hours, and everything you make that calls for chicken stock suddenly has depth of flavor. (It's kind of like the difference between sautéing in schmaltz vs. in oil. If you know what I'm talking about, then... yeah.)
It was Michael Ruhlman who first made me realize how important this is (and I've mentioned it here before). To quote, "I cannot say this strongly or loudly enough: DO NOT use canned stock/broth. Use WATER instead. I repeat. You DO NOT NEED to buy that crappy can of Swanson’s low sodium chicken broth! It will HURT your food. Use water instead. When that recipe says 1 cup of fresh chicken stock (or good quality canned broth), please know that your food, 90 percent of the time, will taste better if you use tap water instead of that "good quality" canned broth. Water is a miracle."
I suppose the secret hero of this post is actually the Pressure Canner (and, by non-trivial extension, my mother, who operates the pressure canner for me 99 times out of 100), which allows me to store my crazy-awesome homemade stock without a sacrifice of freezer space... But the hero I would like to acknowledge is the lowly Batter Dispenser. I originally owned one so that my boyfriend could make me pancakes, but it turns out it's actually the world's greatest fat separator... The clean stock pours out the bottom, and you release the handle before the fat flows through. Add more stock, the fat moves back to the top...
What I've come to really love about homemade stock is all the ways it enriches things. Buying the chickens gives me time off in the kitchen (since delicious protein ready to be flavored as you wish and used in any number of dishes makes for lots of easy meals). It gives me 5-10 quarts (depending on how concentrated I make it) of kick-ass chicken stock to cook with. It also, amazingly, makes dog food. (It turns out the meat left on the carcasses (once picked) combines with the overcooked veggies from the stock, fresh rice, and some homemade chicken stock to give my toothless dog the greatest mealtime experience ever...)
This is the type of thing I like to think about these days. I try (successfully or not) to minimize talk of my physical limitations when I write things here, but those limitations are typically the most screamingly relevant factor in every moment of my life. It's been great to think about things I can do for (essentially) free and in less than 10 minutes of hands-on time that can also make every meal I cook taste just a little more nuanced and give my food that je ne sais quoi feeling that the person who cooked it for you loves you.
What a great post, Emily! I've made homemade stock for years, but I have always kept a couple of cans of chicken stock on hand for times when I don't have fresh in the freezer. I'm going to try the water suggestion next time. Also, thanks for introducing me to Michael Ruhlman.
I don't think there's any better smell (well, maybe sautéing garlic and onions!) than homemade chicken stock simmering away on the stove. It's like a big hug that keeps on giving. And schmaltz? GOLD! Always have some in my freezer.
Just found your blog today (looking up smoking scallops with The Smoking Gun, a recent purchase of mine and haven't used yet :) and think your blog rocks :)
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