When the air calls for a sweater and the leaves begin to turn and tumble down my thoughts shift to warming soups. I absolutely love the art of soup making. Taking raw ingredients, layering their flavors and boosting them with herbs and aromatics is very satisfying. The end result is a steaming bowl of comfort. What makes the deep flavor in all soup recipes is a flavorful base, the stock. Let’s start at the beginning. Do you have to make your own? Absolutely not as there are some fine commercial varieties available but homemade is better, when done correctly, and who doesn’t love the aroma wafting throughout the house. I keep a bone graveyard in my freezer just for this purpose. You can make stock from many things depending on what you want, meat, vegetable or seafood, but most often I make chicken stock because of its versatility in soups, stews and sauces. The resulting smells transport me to my mother’s kitchen and the pot simmering on the stove top filling us all with anticipation of a culinary hug at the dinner table.
On a recent rainy day I set out to make my first batch of stock this season. The chicken I use is pasture raised about five miles from my home by gentle loving friends so I know it has lived a happy life, eating what nature intended and handled with compassion and care. I like to think I put that same care into the products I make with it. Beside whole chickens, I also get “stock packs” made up of the raw bones and feet left over after they are broken down for customers wishing only breasts, thighs or legs. This day I used two packs plus the carcass of a whole chicken I had cooked earlier on the rotisserie. The packs contained three feet each so they must have been some weird looking chicks I must say. Feet you say? Why? I know they are gnarly, repulsive and disturbing but if you can overcome they make the very best stock. Devoid of little else but tendons, bone and cartilage they contribute to a golden stock rich in nutrients. The collagen they contain gels beautifully as a good stock should. Many Asian cultures use the feet exclusively for soup base but I use then in addition to roasted vegetables and bones. Good, but optional, so don’t let this deter you. If you are interested in incorporating the feet, you can sometimes get them from your butcher or packaged in Asian markets.
That said, I like to roast the vegetables and bones prior to making the stock for the dark richness it provides which is perfect for soups and stews. I skip this step for the lighter variety you may prefer for sauces.
Here is how it went down:
Roasted Chicken Stock Makes 5-6 quarts
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
5-6 lbs. of chicken parts, backs, necks, wings or equivalent of whole chicken
2 large unpeeled onions, quartered
4 carrots, chunked and unpeeled
small head of garlic
extra-virgin olive oil
3 stalks celery, chunked
1 large handful of fresh herbs, parsley, thyme, marjoram (this is what I had on hand but you can vary them just keeping in mind that herbs like tarragon, rosemary or sage can be over powering)
Note: I really don’t have a recipe so sometimes I add leeks, fennel, parsnips and other things I may want to clean out of my refrigerator. Above is the basic formula.
2T whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
- Place chicken parts, carrots, onions and garlic in a roasting pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and roast until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.
- Transfer the roasted veg and chicken to a stock pot large enough to handle all the ingredients plus enough water to cover. Deglaze the roasting pan with water or white wine to be sure and get those beautiful brown flavor morsels.
- Add the celery, herbs, peppercorns and bay leaves.
- Add enough cold water to cover all the ingredients.
- Bring to boil, reduce to very slow simmer. Skim any foam that may accumulate on the top. A fast simmer or boil will cloud your stock.
- Cook uncovered for 4-6 hours. DO NOT STIR!!! Stirring will result in a cloudy stock.
- Strain through a very fine sieve or double layer of cheesecloth. Discard all of the solids.
- Skim the fat from the top or better yet, chill in refrigerator overnight. Fat will rise to the top and can be easily spooned off.
- Transfer to containers and freeze until you are ready to use or make a large pot of your favorite soup.
I like to make a big batch and then freeze it in quart and pint containers so it is available for a variety of uses. I prefer to not salt or just lightly salt it and then adjust the salinity depending on how it is used. You have more control that way. If you forget to thaw it ahead, you can place it on medium heat in a sauce pan or thaw in the microwave. You will love having it available. I find it serves as inspiration for making sauces, risotto and just about anything else that can benefit from a little liquid flavor boost.
If you have never made homemade stock before, I think you will find it satisfying and worthwhile. I love the idea of utilizing as much of the animal as possible and really it is better than a twofer. You first have the chicken, then make stock and then the soup. The possibilities are endless. Remember, Thanksgiving is not far away and nothing makes better stock than those roasted turkey bones and leftovers. Don’t have time during the holiday? Wrap it tightly and freeze. If handled properly, it will stay good for 3-4 months. You can spread the holiday love during a January snow storm. Imagine your family and friends getting that culinary hug just when they need it most. So keep spreading it and know I send love out to all of you from my kitchen. Jeanne