Not a particularly exciting subject, but I thought it would be worth sharing for the upcoming holiday season. Using your own stock can make a huge difference in your gravies, sauces, warm winter soups and risottos. In our cooking classes in Italy, we make our own stock, even if it only cooks a hour or so. I find even the organic, free range brands from the grocery stores can be lacking in flavor and a bit ‘stale’. With this recipe, a long simmered, highly flavored stock is a snap to make.
To collect the chicken or meat parts for my stocks, I keep a couple of zip lock bags my freezer, one for chicken and one for meat, and as I butterfly chickens or debone meats I collect the scraps in these bags. I use these scraps for my stocks. Although I often need stock before I’ve collected enough scraps (as you’ll notice from the picture); in that case, I’ll use the cheapest chicken parts I can find. Here, I’ve made the stock with whole chicken legs.
I like brown stocks; the caramelization adds another level of flavor. When I’ve collected enough scraps to fill up my crock pot, I throw the chicken/meat, along with onions, carrots, and celery that have been chopped into a few good sized pieces, and roast briefly in the oven. I know Julia Child frowns on this, she says browning for stock in the oven imparts a bad taste to the meat. However, she uses a lot of scraps like giblets, neck, and hearts. I use backs, even whole thighs, and I have to say I usually think a chicken roasted in the oven tastes pretty good. I don’t find many giblets and hearts in my whole chickens these days. But when I do use them, I don’t roast them in the oven.
Everything from the oven is then put into a crock pot. I put a little water into the sheet pan I used for the roasting and heat this over the stove while I scrape up those nice browned bits that are left – can’t let those go to waste! I pour this water and browned bits into the crock pot, and then cover with water. My crock pot holds about 12 cups of water, in addition to the meat/vegetables. I then check my refrigerator to see what else interesting I can add; fennel fronds or the top of a leek make a nice addition to a chicken stock. I add the standard stock seasonings: bay leaves, parsley, peppercorns, garlic. I don’t bother with the bouquet garni, wrapping all of these up in a cheese cloth. If they are left whole, they will be removed when you strain everything.
I can then turn on my crock pot and leave everything overnight, or for a full day. I don’t worry about skimming, although I will do it occasionally if I happen to be right there. I leave the cover off if I am around the house, which allows the liquid to reduce a bit and concentrate the flavors. I check the level every once and a while to make sure there is enough. If I am leaving it overnight, or if I plan to be away from home for a while, I will cover it. I can always reduce it later.
When it has cooked long enough (6-8 hours for chicken, 8-12 for beef), I strain it into a large plastic container. I lift out the larger pieces and dump those directly into the trash, then pour the remainder into a large strainer. I usually chill the stock before I use it, and during the chilling process the fat will rise and solidify on the top. This makes it quite easy to eliminate most of the fat by simply removing and disposing of this layer.
After chilling, I freeze what I don’t plan on using that week. I either freeze 4 cup batches in a large freezer ziplock, which is a perfect amount for a soup, or I pour the stock into a couple of ice cube trays and freeze stock ‘cubes’. When they are solid, I can remove them from the trays and store them in a single zip lock. These cubes are great for finishing a sauce or in a stir fry.
Crock Pot Stock
Makes approximately 12 cups of stock (depends on the size of your crock pot)
2 lbs. various chicken parts – backs, wings, legs, neck, giblets. Not breasts, livers. For beef stock, bones and scraps.
1/4 cup or so of extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, very coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, cut into larger 1 inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large 1 inch pieces
3 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, peeled
10 springs fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
Handful of parsley or parsley stems
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Place the larger chicken or meat pieces (not giblets), onion, celery, and carrots on a sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil. Roast until brown, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven.
Transfer the roasted meat and vegetables into your crock pot. Add the smaller chicken parts and the remaining ingredients to the crock pot.
Place the sheet pan on your stove and pour some water into it, enough to just cover the bottom. Turn on the heat to low, and scrape the browned bits that have adhered to the bottom of the sheet pan to get them to dissolve in the water. This accomplishes two things – it gets those nice browned bits into your stock to add flavor, and it cleans your sheet pan. Pour the water from the sheet pan into your stock pot. Add additional water to cover.
Cover, and bring to a boil. My crock pot has an ‘auto-shift’ setting, which is ‘high’ for the first hour and then switches to ‘low’. This is perfect for stock. You want it to come to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 6 hours or so. Meat stock can go even longer.
When the stock is done, strain the stock through a strainer, disposing of the solids. Chill as rapidly as possible. If you have room in your refrigerator, you can place it in an ice water bath.
It will keep in your refrigerator for 3-4 days. It should be brought to a boil before using. If you need to store it longer, it can be frozen.