Can a picky eater overcome a lifelong aversion to "branching out"?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Taking Stock

There is an entire industry out there based on convincing us that things that appear difficult are actually surprisingly easy and can be carried out quite simply in your own home.  Usually...they are total liars.  It is not easy to carve your own bedroom set out of driftwood.  It is not a simple task to knit your child a princess gown from yarn spun from the wool of your own low maintenance herd of goats.  And I was highly skeptical that making chicken stock was as low stress and effortless as advertised.  But I had a whole weekend free, a bag full of chicken carcass and all the veggie odds and ends from the chicken noodle soup so I thought I might as well go for it!  In the end I was both right and wrong.  It was more of a challenge than other sources would lead you to believe and I ended up with a completely thrashed kitchen, but it also wasn't the disaster in waiting that I secretly anticipated.

I didn't have one specific recipe that I picked off of.  I scanned the internet and various cookbooks and picked up the general idea.  Which was basically, through a bunch of stuff in a pot, add water and cook the hell out of it.  The first hurdle came when I realized that I had gotten rid of my stock pot about a month earlier because I had never used it!!!!  Luckily I have an amazingly understanding husband who is used to my less than prepared culinary adventures and he managed to keep the grumbling to a minimum when I dragged us out of the house at 7:45 am to go buy a stock pot!  When we got back home, the briefly derailed stock challenge was back on.

I had saved the chicken carcass from a dinner earlier in the week and saved all of the peelings and odds and ends from the chicken noodle soup.  I wanted more chicken so I went ahead and roasted another chicken to add to the mix.  I butterflied the chicken (saving the back bone to add to the pot of course) and added salt, pepper and a bit of old bay seasoning and then roasted it just until the skin picked up that nice roasted look and smell.

The meat wasn't yet done, but that was okay.  It could finish cooking in the pot.  I cut up the chicken into quarters and added it to the pot along with a leek, some garlic, more onions and a bit of ginger.  I added in celery seed, peppercorns, sage, a bit of mustard seed, parsley and two bay leaves.  I didn't measure the spices but I went easy on them knowing that the flavor would get more intense as it cooked down.

I added water to cover and covered it and turned the heat up high and waited for it to boil.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I don't know if you are aware of it, but it takes a loooooooong time for that amount of water to boil!!  Finally, after at least an hour, it started boiling and I was able to uncover it and turn the heat down to medium to keep it at a simmer.  I came in every 20 minutes or so to "skim the scum off of the top."  Now, I was incredibly unclear about what constitutes "scum" and, despite a Google search, was unable to find a satisfyingly informative picture.  So I just kind of.....generally skimmed!  I figured that if I got everything off the top, the scum would come with it!  After 2 hours, with the top layer suitable skimmed and hopefully scum free, I took out the chicken pieces.  I let them cool for a bit and then stripped the meat off.  I tossed the bones back in and put the meat in a bag in the freezer to be used later for....well....I don't actually know yet!  Something!  With that done, I let it alone for a few hours to take the dogs to the dunes.

It was a gorgeous day and the dogs got some much needed exercise and it kept me from obsessively checking on the stock every few seconds.  We got back and I made another pass at skimming the broth.  After another 4 hours of simmering, the stock had cooked down quite a bit.  Now, every recipe I looked at had a different cooking time listed.  I went for 6 hours as that seemed to be about the average time of everything I looked at.  After telling you to cook the stock for X amount of hours, every recipe then gave the same phrase "When the stock is done cooking..."  I hate phrases like this.  When it is done?  What does that mean?  How do I know it is done?  Is it a certain temperature?  A certain color?  A certain smell?  I don't have enough confidence in my own judgement yet!!!  Give me something to work with!!!  But once again, Google failed me and I was unable to get any more specific than "When it is done".  So as much as it made me anxious, I just had to shrug it off and use my own best guess.  So I sort of puttered around a bit and dragged it out for another half an hour before I took it off the heat.

The next step is to strain the stock and immediately cool it.  I rigged up a setup with a large metal bowl settled into a cooler full of cold water and, with the help of my patient and adoring husband was able to get the stock strained and cooled in the bowl.  And I only burned my husband 3 times!  Pretty impressive considering we had no idea what we were doing and our straining/cooling process involved me standing at the stove, my husband kneeling on the floor, a huge stock pot, a handheld stainer, 3 different sized metal bowls, a foam cooler full of water and two overly curious dogs who kept trying to involve themselves in the process.  It worked though!  We cooled the stock and then put it in the fridge to finish cooling and separating.

The next day, I pulled the cooled stock to skim off the fat that was supposed to rise to the top.  There was a layer of white stuff that looked like fat on the top, but it was the same consistency as the stock itself, so it was difficult to "skim" it off the top.  I ended up just removing the top layer altogether to ensure that the fat was removed.  I also put a call in to my mom to double check that stock was supposed to be that thick.  She reassured me that it was okay and that it was because it was so cold, but once it was heated up, it would be normal consistency.  So I went ahead and scooped in into a variety of containers (3 with 4 cups of stock, 3 with 2 cups of stock and an ice cube tray with a tablespoon of stock per cube) and shoved it all in the freezer!  And now I am set for stock!  Which is good because I better get a pay off for the fact that my kitchen is completely decimated.  Seriously.  There are dirty dishes and utensils everywhere, drips of stock all over the stove, counters and floor, chicken bones and mushed up veggies piled up all over the place....In terms of actual effort needed to make the stock, it is true that it is fairly easy.  It is essentially boiling the hell out of a bunch of stuff you would otherwise be tossing in the trash.  But unless I am doing something completely wrong (which is always possible!!) it makes up for that in the fact that it creates a lot of clean up!  But we will see!  Maybe the clean up will be worth it to have about 20 cups of chicken stock in the freezer.  Or it will just create another challenge in that I now have 20 cups of chicken stock that I need to figure out how to use!  Only time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. I'm impressed! And your hubby deserves combat pay if not a purple heart! The part of your preparation that surprises me is that you roast your chicken ahead of time. But then it probably makes it taste really good. I think I will try that when I make Matzah Ball Soup! The 'scum' is also referred to as 'shmutz', maybe you can google that for a definition.