"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Chicken stock for beginners

by Julie Tilsner on June 15, 2008

in Dinner, Minor Miracles, Soups

Chickenstock Somewhere I got it into my little pea brain that the dividing line between a real cook and a pretend cook is the ability to make your own stock.

Long ago, when I first bought Mark Bittman’s ‘How to Cook Everything” and became more interested in cooking, I noted with delight that stocks are allegedly not hard to make. Of course, I never got around to finding this out for myself.

Fast forward to now. Kelli came over for her second session as my cooking coach, and announced, “Today, we’re making stock.”

Michael Ruhlman, the chef/writer I worship from afar, in his new book, “The Elements of Cooking,” says this about stock: “In the creation of good food, no preparation comes close to matching the power of fresh stock. It’s called le fond, “the foundation,” in the French kitchen for a reason….ultimately, well-made stock is the ingredient that definitively separates home cooking from the cooking of a professional.”

Gulp.

Kelli isn’t concerned. “Pish,” she says, when I inform her that chicken stock is serious business, and probably not for the likes of me. “Everything is better with homemade chicken stock,” she says. “And even you can make it. There are just a few rules.” She has brought with her two packs of chicken wings, carrots, celery, an onion and fresh sprigs of thyme and rosemary.

Then she introduces me to the Trinity. Diced celery, carrots and onion. The mirepoix. And she shows me how to dice them, overwhelming me with a wave of information regarding different cuts and knives and when to use what when and which where. Like a good teacher, she then hands me the knife and asks me to repeat what she did, and I do my best, hunched over, tongue between teeth, like a second-grader trying to solve a fourth grade math fact. She shows me how to hold my fingers on the produce, knuckles against the knife edge, that will best prevent my slicing off any fingertips.

I was not as quick nor as neat as she was, but at least I still have all 10 tips on my person, which in my view suggests basic success. My next victory was finding a stock pot big enough to hold everything, deep in the corner of my pantry.

We sauteed the vegetables in a little too much canola oil (she said I wouldn’t need a measuring spoon), added the chicken and herbs, and covered with cold water. She explained the term “season expertly,” to me, but since I didn’t have any peppercorns my expertise is limited. She added a few cloves of garlic.

As she worked, she offered additional tips: Always put your fat into a heated pan. Use the parts of the chicken that move the most (like wings) when making stocks. Cover with cold water. Do NOT let it ever come to a rolling boil. Simmer for two hours or more, until your whole house is infused with the aroma of chicken soup. Strain, then strain again, then divide into containers and freeze.

Since she worked for years in a hotel kitchen as a saucier, she gave me a quick symposium on basic sauces, nothing of which I retain. The very word “sauce” frightens me. But I vow to revisit the topic down the road, when I am less timid in the ways of cuisine.

Kelli left me with a clove of mashed garlic on the back of my chef’s knife and a quick explanation on how to make my own garlic bread (mix with soft butter, spread on crusty toast then finish in the oven. I later make this for my kids, adding a bit of mozzarella cheese on top, to spectacular accolades, and a near fistfight over who got to eat the last piece).

I simmered the stock for more than two hours, then strained it into my second largest pot. Alas, I then found I didn’t have nearly enough containers with lids to hold all of the liquid gold, and so, in fine BHC tradition, I had to half-ass it and use what I could, including old Chinese take-out soup containers.

Chikstok I have chicken and rice soup on the stove as I write this (and now that I think about it, I’d better go check it…), featuring my own home-made chicken stock. Is this the beginning of a new era for me…or a new level of hell to explore?

Stay tuned. Next week we venture to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

amy June 16, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Congratulations on your stock! I have to say, that task frightens me greatly, but would love to hear how your soup is!
BTW, Mark Bittman is a lifesaver. That book has saved many a meal in our house.
I love your blog…

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ATriana June 16, 2008 at 1:43 pm

..remind me to do a little caulking at the sink before you take another photo there..

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Bratsky June 17, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Well done!!! You’re going to have to change your blog name! =)

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kelli June 21, 2008 at 1:46 pm

The stock looks great! Clear (a result of never boiling), and good rich color (good veggies and proper time on the stove)!!
I am enjoying this process immensely, I sometimes forget how good home stock is and buy it, bad. Cooking is also way more fun with friends!!
Next week…??? Something good will jump off the table at us and demand we cook it. Blenheim Apricots perhaps? Jam you say? We shall see!

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Sam's Mom June 25, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Oh my imagine the possibilities now that you mastered chicken stock. Your chicken nono soup will taste even better with your homemade stock and homemade matzo ball soup is not too far fetched either. Cheers!

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eliza June 29, 2008 at 10:34 pm

i’ve tons of chicken parts/bones in my freezer ready to be made into chicken stock so i understand that homemade is definitely better! 🙂
ooh, i want to go with you to Santa Monica Farmers Market!

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Stock Pots June 7, 2010 at 2:30 am

Nice tips. I now understand why the foods that I’m cooking doesnt taste well. It’s because I don’t usually use stock. This is great, I’ve learned something new.

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