Thursday, 21 January 2010

A Simple Chicken Stock (or Soup)

Here is the first, and simplest way I'm going to show you to make a good chicken stock. There are richer stocks, but this one is perfect for a simple chicken soup. In fact, it is a simple chicken soup.

Ingredients for a simple chicken stock
1 well-sourced chicken, around 1.5 kg in weight, rinsed inside and out
½ kg extra wings, backs or drumsticks (optional, but will enhance the broth)
Any or some of the following:
1-2 carrots, scrubbed and chopped into 1cm circles
1-2 outer celery stalks, cleaned, trimmed of most of its leaves and chopped into 1cm pieces
spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
an inch of ginger, scrubbed and sliced
leek, trimmed, cut in half, washed very well and cut into 1 cm pieces
onion, peeled and chopped in quarters.
parsley stems
8 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
3-6 whole garlic cloves, smashed to peel
a mild chilli, chopped in half

Assuming your chook has already been plucked and gutted, rinsed it of any blood both inside and out. Use the neck, heart and gizzards, if you have them, but not the liver (this can be saved for other purposes, such as paté).

Find a pot that fits the chook and the extra chicken bits nearly-but-not-quite snugly. Put the chook in, and add just enough cold water to cover. Bring to the boil on medium heat. As the chook comes to the boil, try to keep it at a gentle, consistent, simmer. Don’t ever let it rapidly boil, and try not to let it come off the simmer either. This adjustment will need to be watched for the whole cooking time.

Skim off any scum with a wide spoon, but try not to skim off fat (which contains lots of flavour). Add a few pinches of sea salt. Once most of the scum is gone, chop and add to the pot any combination of carrots, celery, spring onion, ginger, leek, onion, parsley stems, peppercorns, bay leaves, whole garlic cloves, and chilli. The more you use, the more the broth will taste of veggies. The extent of this flavour balance is, of course, up to you and your vision for the meal you’re making.

After 30 or 40 minutes of cooking, take the chook out, remove most of its breast and leg meat, and return the carcass to the pot. If the leg meat isn't quite cooked, put it back in the broth until it is. Moisten the meat with a little broth, cover and set aside (if it’s anything but a cool day, refrigerate the meat as well).

Keep simmering the broth for around two hours more, continuing to occasionally skim any impurities that collect on the surface. (I find this is always easier to do if you let a bit collect together, rather than picking at every bit as it surfaces) After an hour of further simmering, taste the broth every 20 minutes or so, seasoning with a little more salt as you do. (It's much easier to taste for  ‘readiness’ when something’s properly seasoned, and as long as you don’t plan on reducing the stock very much, you won’t over season, but do be aware that some evaporation is, and will continue, to occur). You want the broth to taste savoury and sweet, a contrast that intensifies as the broth simmers, and then peaks when all the flavour leaves the chicken and enters the broth. If you keep simmering after this point, the broth will taste tired. Judgment of the peak comes with practice. Once the broth's peaked, immediately strain it through a fine sieve. Don't press the bones or the vegetables to squeeze out the juice (this would cloud the broth with bland impurities).

If you’ve made the stock ahead of time, you may have time to let it cool, refrigerate it, and then skim off the fat with a spoon or spatula (quite easy once the stock has congealed). If not, you can either leave the majority of the fat (it is a bundle of flavour after all) or try to skim some of it from the surface of the broth while it's still cooling. Trying to do this when the broth is warm is a little wasteful of stock, but if you save all the skimmings in a bowl and refrigerate it, any of the broth you’ve skimmed accidently can be retrieved for flavouring other dishes.

Making your stock into a soup

Boil some noodles and add these to a bowl of broth, with some freshly sautéed carrots, spinach and spring onions, or any other vegetables that take your fancy and are seasonal. You can even tailor the stock ingredients to the final sauté you plan to add to the soup, so that the two enhance each others flavours (except for brassicas and cabbage, which will lend a 'farty' smell to any reserved stock). Tear up the reserved chicken flesh and add that too, or save it for chicken sandwiches. In either case, serve your soup with finely chopped herbs and cracked pepper.

Alternatively, use this light broth as a basis for other soups, such as:

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