Monday, September 21, 2009

Epicurette Takes On the Stock Market

With the creation of my Red Pepper Soup, a feeling of panic set in. A sweep of my freezer confirmed my deepest fears, this soup would use the last of my chicken stock. In the late spring I had finally gotten tired of every cookbook, food article, and blog post scolding me about one truism of a serious cook, never use packaged chicken stock. "It's flavor is plastic" they declared, "it lacks the silky texture of a homemade stock!" To which I respond, "I'm a busy modern woman. I don't feel like doing it. Why don't YOU do it?"

The promise of silky texture wasn't what sold me. It was that it was a creation involving nothing but chicken scraps and cheap veggies, and it promised to improve every soup and sauce I made. I implemented as instructed, and Easter through Labor Day my freezer was stocked with a secret weapon. Then fall and the red pepper soup came, and my ambrosia in ziplock bags was exhausted. Action needed to be taken.

There are two major obstacles to homemade chicken stock being produced in my kitchen.

#1: The recipe I use requires the carcasses of 2 chickens, thus 2 whole chickens must be cooked and consumed. Actually, this and other recipes will tell you that a mix of "scrap" chicken can be purchased, wings and such, and just thrown in instead of the carcass. The thing is though, chicken is quite popular in this apartment. When Will and I first met, it was one of the few things I could make that he would actually eat. One of my first gifts from my mother after Will and I moved in together was a cookbook focusing solely on chicken dishes. The idea of paying money for chicken we didn't intend to eat seems wasteful, and disappointing. Especially when you throw in the fact that I have a new roasting pan to play with. As a result the carcass of the chicken I made when Stef was here was nestled in the back of the freezer as soon as dinner was over. The following week when Whole Foods advertised whole, organic chickens, which never usually go on sale, I had the poor sales help scrambling all over the meat department helping me locate them. (They were in the flyer, but not marked in the case. It took a call to the general office to figure out which chicken was on sale. And I made them do it. I felt like a brat but I wanted an organic chicken and on my non-profit salary, this was the only way I was going to get it.) Another lovely chicken dinner down, and I had my pair of carcasses ready to go.

#2: I don't actually own a stock pot. There's this annoying thing when you are getting married, you are encouraged to register for all the household items you ever set your heart on. But from that moment until the "I do" you aren't allowed to buy any of those things yourself. I'm used to being an independent chef, I might have to save to get things but generally, when I want a pot, I buy it. Now I could be ruining someone's gift giving plans, so I dream about all the things on my registry that I would have normally just purchased for myself while humming a Beyonce song. None of my pots may be big enough for the task of making stock, but I have one device that is, and it's built for the slow simmer. This was the perfect reason to drag out my Crock Pot.

The technique involved in making stock this way is nil. I pour a shit ton of water into the pot, slice up a few veggies, throw in pot, turn on, go to bed. The next morning I wake up and the whole apartment smells of chicken soup. What could be better? Actually, it's not quite that easy. As I had made pot roast on Saturday, and had gotten a late start, Will and I didn't eat dinner until 9pm. Then we watched a DVD. It wasn't until I was getting ready for bed that I even remembered my grandiose plan to replenish my stock supply. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why, at midnight on Saturday, when, I imagine, most 26 year old New Yorkers were in bars or getting laid, I was in my kitchen chopping up a carrot. Revel in my glamorous lifestyle.

Why, you might ask, didn't you put it off for a night? While the night before work is super easy, it's the following morning that takes work. Since a crock pot is based on trapped steam heat, the stock doesn't boil down more then a few cups, leaving the stock somewhat thin. Luckily it boils down just enough for the remaining liquid to fit into one of my existing pots and I boil it down from there. Once that process is accomplished, I have to wait for it to cool enough to be poured into freezer bags, label each bag, and chill. In the spring when I did this, I thought I could easily fit this project in before work. Gah. Now I know that this is undoubtably a weekend project.

One little trick did make the processes go markedly smoother this time around. This is the glorious invention of the Soup Sock. This natural cotton bag was fantastic, I packed in all the ingredients and then just submerged it into the water. Once it cooled the next morning I simply removed it. No fishing out bone, scraps of onion, bits of garlic. It all lifted right out, and was thrown away. And I got three of these things for $2.50. What a time to be alive.

This is the recipe as it appears in Gourmet for a regular stock pot. Again, all I changed when I made it was to put in in a crock pot overnight on low instead of making it in the pot, and then boiling it down the next morning. All of my ingredients are the same.

  • 2 chicken carcasses left over from roast chicken, any herbs in cavities discarded
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 8 parsley sprigs including long stems
  • 4 quarts water


Bring all ingredients to a boil in an 8-qt stockpot. Reduce heat and simmer, skimming foam occasionally, 2 hours.

Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. If you have more than 6 cups, boil to reduce; if less, add water. If using stock right away, skim off and discard fat. If not, chill stock (covered once cool) and discard fat after it solidifies.

Bags of stock now chilled and in the freezing process, I have started to look forward to all of the delightful soups I will make this winter. I've already found a recipe for Mushroom Soup with Hazelnut Gremolata. It calls for 3 cups of.... vegetable broth. God dammit. I wonder what I'll be doing at midnight next Saturday...


clare said...

do you have the world's best apartment freezer or something? i talk (a lot) about all the things i'll make-ahead when i have a trunk freezer, but our current freezer is teeny-tiny.

Anonymous said...

Bill calls me "meat bags Boyd" because I buy meat, not for stock purposes, but stockpiling purposes, in my freezer. It saves money to buy in bulk.

I shall rename you "Stock Pot Shock"

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