I realized about two weeks ago that I was spent. Sack of bones tired. Slug paced. Work weary. So, in the spirit of honoring one of my New Year’s resolutions, I took a break. My new computer conspired in the matter by spending two weeks in and out of the Apple hospital. And I dropped everything. Literally plopped down intent on doing nothing but resting. It was uncomfortable. My 18-page list disturbed my thoughts. All of my must-dos crept into moments that were supposed to be quiet. And then I sank in. And slept. And slept some more. And slept some more. I slept for a week, really. I realized how deeply exhausted I was and wondered how it was possible to sleep so much and still feel tired. And then a spark grew and I realized that I was actually feeling inspired and alert again, something which, after more than a year of grueling work hours, I had nearly forgotten. I’m ready for more 20-hour days again. But I’m excited about them. And about another year of days from which I’ll squeeze everything possible and sign my name to happily as I go to sleep.
My freezer, and perhaps yours, has become a bit bare in the last few months. So today I am making chicken stock and, with the birds from my brother-in-law’s early winter hunt, a pheasant stock, too. Stock seems to be intimidating to many cooks. But it’s so much easier than so many other things. You don’t need to peel or chop vegetables, really. You just plop some birds and some aromatics into water and let them burble away over a low flame. A little skimming here and there is the only work required. And if you can drain pasta, you can finish stock. I think homemade stock is transformative in cooking. It will elevate everything you cook with it. Set aside a Saturday when you’ll be home for a few hours, and make a pot. Perhaps even take a nap while it cooks.
Chicken Stock Tips
I have the impression that many people use whole chickens for stock. This seems wasteful to me, as chickens cooked for stock are sapped of their flavor after four hours cooking and wind up in the bin. I prefer to use chicken bones. If you don’t see them at your market, ask your butcher. They are incredibly inexpensive; I paid $1.29 per pound for packages of bones from true free-range, organic birds.
I only add about 1 tablespoon of salt to a batch of stock. The finished stock will likely need a bit more seasoning when you use it, but it will not be over seasoned if you reduce it or use it in a sauce.
You don’t really need to measure the water here. Just pour in water to cover all of the ingredients.
You want the stock to burble at a slow blub, blub, blub. If it is simmer, simmer, simmering, it will not be as tasty. You want a slow bubble.
One might think that if four hours cooking is good, five or six or seven might be even better. Stock has a peak and then begins to fade. If you stew it to death, it will not be tasty.
This is an incredibly flexible recipe. Add parsnips, or garlic, or other vegetable scraps. Omit herbs that you don’t care for. Add more chicken bones or more leeks or more thyme. Make it the way it pleases you.
To make pheasant stock, simply substitute wild pheasants for the chicken bones.
Yield: about 7 quarts of stock
2 large onions, quartered (no need to peel)
2 leeks, hairy and tough green ends lopped off and then quartered lengthwise and rinsed well
5 carrots, chunked up (no need to peel)
5 celery stalks, chunked up
½ of a large bunch of parsley
½ of a large bunch of dill
½ of a large bunch of thyme
3 bay leaves
1 T. peppercorns
1 T. salt
12 pounds chicken bones
Good-tasting water (about 7 quarts)
- Place all of the ingredients into a large stockpot over high heat. Bring up to a simmer. Then lower the heat to the lowest possible setting.
- Burble for four hours, skimming off the impurities that rise to the top.
- Strain the stock and allow it to cool a bit. Transfer it to one-quart containers leaving some headspace for the stock to expand with freezing, label the containers, cool them the refrigerator, and pop them in the freezer.