Chicken Stock for the Soul

My dad makes a lot of chicken stock and it was one of those rites of passage things he made sure to teach me before I left the nest. He’ll tell you his number one rule is not to add too much water otherwise you’ll end up with a weak tasting stock. My dad isn’t the kind of guy to dispense much advice in general but when he does it’s usually a pretty great nugget on a narrow range of subjects including saving money, not losing your keys, safety behind the wheel, or making a good tasting soup.

The apple indeed does not fall far from the tree. Just like my dad, I have taken on the habit of cooking a big pot of chicken stock a couple of times a month. Sometimes the impetus is the leftover carcass of a roast chicken, other times I buy a few of pounds of backs and necks for next to nothing at the meat counter. I toss those in a pot and cover with cold water (but not too much!) then leave it at a very low simmer, uncovered, for a couple of hours, skimming when I get the chance. Sometimes, I throw all my ingredients in a crock pot (with the lid slightly ajar) and let it go all day or  over night, or if I have the oven on I’ll stash my stock pot to cook along in there. I switch it up when the mood strikes by adding carrots, celery, onions, garlic, peppercorns, mushrooms, tomatoes…

I don’t even pretend to have the sagely wisdom of my dad, but I do intend to teach both my boys to be great stock makers. An excellent stock can take you so many places in any cuisine and its one of the best tricks I know to improve your cooking overall. I know it’s highly possible that neither of them may ever have the inclination to fill their freezer with flavorful homemade stock, but at least they’ll know how and I can feel that I have done my duty to pass along the family wisdom on the subject.

Basic Chicken Stock

After simmering on the stove, in a crock pot or in the oven for several hours, let your stock cool a bit then strain it with a fine mesh strainer into whatever container will fit into your refrigerator. When it’s chilled through, skim off any solidified fat and use within a few days or freeze.

Super Flavorful Stock – Here some of our favorite tricks for pumping up the flavor:

  • Reduce the stock by a third or a half to concentrate it’s flavors. This is also helpful if you’re short on space. You can store a reduced stock  in a smaller container and then add back water as needed as you’re cooking. Be careful about adding salt before reducing, the saltiness with intensify as well. Best to be conservative with salt at the start and leave yourself room to season with more at the end as needed.
  • We like this trick from Cooks Illustrated which involves browning a modest amount of ground chicken then simmering the stock with the meat to pump up the chicken-y flavors. You’ll need to strain it again before using.
  • You can boost the flavor and take it in a different direction by adding a Parmesan cheese rind and letting that simmer with the stock. This is great for a simple soup of tortellini in brodo.
  • Recently we tried our hand at a simplified version of David Chang’s “Ramen Broth 2.0”, which involved simmering a basic stock with konbu (a type of dried seaweed), pulverized dried shitakes and a little bit of bacon. You can find all the details on that bowl of delicious in the first issue of Lucky Peach magazine.

The Best Chicken Soup Ev-uh

Our favorite way to enjoy a great stock is to make an old fashioned chicken soup. And our favorite way to make the soup is to cook all the components separately (vegetables, pasta, chicken), seasoning them so they each taste great on their on and are at the perfect point of done-ness. That means you can toss your perfectly al dente pasta with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese, you can season steamed carrots with sea salt and finely minced thyme, and you can toss your shredded chicken with a bright squeeze of lemon — and you can do all this in advance if you like. At dinner time, compose each bowl with the prepared ingredients and pour your piping hot, extra delicious stock over to warm everything through. Sure it’s more work than throwing everything in a pot all at once, but the soup is perfection and everyone can personalize their dinner. And this sort of chicken soup assembly project is an easy “cooking” activity for kids who aren’t quite old enough to work at the stove yet.

Check out some of our other chicken soup-related faves: Tortellini in Brodo, Luisa’s Sopa de Tortilla, Don’t Throw That Out! Meet Your New BFF, the Parmegiano Reggiano Rind