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Saturday, September 5, 2009

canned chicken stock is way more gross than chicken feet

it's probably because they look like human hands. sinister, gnarled, four-fingered witch hands. that's what makes chicken feet so creepy, and what makes a pot of them simmering on the stove look downright horrifying. but chicken feet make the BEST stock.

last january, while we were still living in portland, i traveled to kookoolan farms in yamhill for some cheesemaking supplies. they were selling chicken parts for stock at a great price, and since i could see from the window that their birds live happy chicken lives, freely roaming the huge property and eating bugs as chickens should, i was happy to take advantage of the opportunity.

if i'm a snob about anything, it's chicken stock from a box. the stuff is completely overpowering and makes everything taste like a salty campbell's condensed soup-- bleck. homemade, on the other hand, is silky and light and is a perfect base for other flavors to be showcased. i've been making stock for years from the bones leftover from whole roasted birds, but hadn't ever started with raw parts. feet, necks-- i was creeped out. i braved it, though, chuckling uncomfortably the whole way through, and now believe there is no better way to go. the resulting stock is lean and rich with a creamy texture and a clear, golden color, and is absolutely worth any discomfort experienced during the preparation.

most excellent chicken stock

2lb chicken parts, or carcass from a roasted chicken
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped with leaves
1 yellow onion, quartered, skin left on
3 cloves garlic, smashed
5 or so sprigs fresh parsley
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 bayleaf
kosher salt

in large stock pot (2-3 gallons), add all ingredients except the salt and cover with filtered water to the top of the pot. bring to an easy boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours or more, occasionally skimming any accumulated scum from the top. do not stir! stirring will emulsify the fat into the stock and make it cloudy and, well, fatty.

after about an hour, start tasting the stock. it's usually weak and watery. add about a teaspoon of kosher salt, working it into the liquid from the surface with a spoon, but not aggressively stirring. taste again at the 1 1/2 hour mark, add another teaspoon salt. taste every 15-30 minutes, adding salt in small amounts (if necessary) until it tastes sufficiently flavorful. don't over season, since most recipes calling for chicken stock also call for additional salt.

remove from heat and strain through a double layer of butter muslin or cheesecloth into a large bowl. when it's cool enough to refrigerate, chill overnight.

skim off any fat that solidifies on the surface.

this recipe makes 3-5 quarts, depending on the size of the stock pot and how much it cooks down. i freeze in quart containers, 2 cup portions in freezer bags, and ice trays so i'm ready for recipes that call for small amounts.

  • most farms with chickens, unless they are making and selling their own stocks, have stock parts for sale. farmers markets are a great place to find them.
  • leaving the skin on the onions helps it develop it's golden color.
  • since everything is going to be strained out, the veggies can be choppped in rough chunks.
  • if you use organic produce, it needs to be washed well, but not peeled.
  • other herbs and vegetables would work in this recipe, too. turnips, thyme, maybe even rutabagas...?
  • you can add salt at the beginning or at any point during the cooking process, but i do it slowly towards the end since flavors, including salt, intensify the longer something cooks. this is just the method that works for me.
  • the butter muslin or cheesecloth can be washed and reused.
  • there's plenty of meat left on the necks which can be carefully pulled off and fed to a very happy kitty.

since making soups is one of my favorite things in the whole world, i go through this process 5 or 6 times a year and i LOVE it. it's therapeutic, really-- the comforting aroma, the steamed-up kitchen windows, the knowledge that i'll be prepared for so many soup, sauce, and risotto possibilities... it is not as time consuming as it might seem-- throw some stuff in a pot and walk away for a few hours. the clean up is the hardest part, honestly. let's face it-- if those feet were kinda gross going in the pot, they are decidedly worse coming out.

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