A stock with guaranteed returns and little upfront costs sounds too good to be true. Well, it is possible and this is the perfect time for investing. The stock? Top-performing, flavour-bursting chicken stock. The upfront costs are minimal: chicken bones you would normally discard, an onion or two, plus a little effort to start the whole scenario simmering. Its performance plays out in any recipe where chicken broth shines through.
I can’t put into words the flavour difference between lovingly-simmered chicken stock and the kind that comes out of a can or box or that is born from a cube. Think about the best chicken soup you’ve had, probably in a top-class restaurant or made by a loving granda (if you’re lucky enough to have one). It was undoubtedly a “made-from-scratch” stock. That sums up the difference in the best way I know. Every drop has layers of flavour and soul.
So what’s involved in making a wonder broth? It can be as simple as throwing bones in water and simmering for half a day. I’ve done that a multitude of times when I didn’t want to take time to add the onions, carrots and celery that chefs usually include. Even without these extras, the result is most worthwhile.
The easiest way to get the bones is simply to collect all those left on your plates after a chicken dinner. Stash them in a big plastic bag in the freezer, and add to them as you go. The aftermath of a chicken wing feast is a grand start.
Ok ok, if you don’t want to bother with this, butcher shops and many supermarkets sell chicken backs just for this purpose. Embrace necks, heads, feet and wings as well. Both raw and cooked will work. If you’re into flattened chickens, those backbones you cut out couldn’t be put to a better use.
Butchers in Toronto report a run on bones, no doubt due to the incredible growing popularity of bone soup. (More on that later.) Asian markets sell carcasses for about $2 per pound. Chicken wings, in comparison, run around $5. After simmering bones, you usually don’t use the meat, because it is too hard to harvest from the skin and bone mix. Browning the bones before you put them in the stock jacks up the flavour return.
Choose your vehicle: either the biggest pot you own, a large slow cooker, or a pressure cooker. Since simmering takes a minimum of 2 hours (a day is much better), the slow cooker lets you do this without fear of running out of water. However, small slow cookers can be a drawback.
Begin by tossing in bones; 3 to 4 pounds (1.5 to 2 kg) is a good amount. Onions, carrots, and celery come next. Cut these into big chunks. Hold off adding salt until simmering is finished so you can add to taste. Cover with at least 2 inches (5 cm) water. Bring to a boil, and then adjust heat to keep it simmering. It’s best to skim off foam as it forms on the top, but I don’t always do this. Cover and check periodically to make sure bones are covered with water, topping up if necessary. If you need to interrupt the simmering process, just refrigerate. Skim off fat before resuming.
What else can go in? Bay leaves, peppercorns, a touch of tomato paste, vinegar, fresh garlic, ginger slices, fish sauce, and dried mushrooms are a few that some chefs add. But add only ingredients you like and do so sparingly. Remember, it’s the chicken you want to taste.
How do you know when it’s ready? Taste it. If it’s yummy, you’ve done your work. Put a huge sieve over a big bowl and pour in the broth. Discard bones. This is when you add salt if you think it needs a taste boost.
I always keep a big jar in the fridge to use within the week and freeze the rest. If freezer space is limited, boil down the broth, then simple dilute with water when using. You can freeze in ice cube trays or muffin tins; this is ideal for a single mug of something or to enrich just about any kind of sauce.
Now, I’ve been talking about chicken broth or stock. But what’s been making headlines these days is bone broth—a step beyond this classic.
It’s been dubbed this year’s “hottest energy drink.” Chef Marcus Samuelson served it up at a dinner he cooked for fellow chefs in Saveur magazine’s test kitchen. When Marco Canora, owner of trendy Hearth restaurant, NY, was diagnosed with high cholesterol and gout, he became obsessed with sipping broth from bones lovingly simmered to extract their maximum minerals, amino acids and collagen. That led him to open the Brodo (Italian for takeout) window in his restaurant through which he sells bone broth in coffee cups.
Recently, Toronto butchers were overwhelmed by the surge in demand for bones of all kinds. Asian stores have always stocked bones for the traditional bone soup important in Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. Cartons of the soup elixir are sold in many Asian supermarkets.
Time is what separates stock from bone broth. A good chicken stock needs at least 3 hours of simmering, while a bone broth takes half a day, or more. In a slow cooker, a whole day on low is recommended. Once chilled, a stock is pourable, but bone broth has more consistency and is jelly-like jiggly.
What happens during the prolonged simmering? First, vitaminsas well as minerals including calcium are released from the bones and captured in the broth. A splash of vinegar helps release these nutrients. (Be sure to make it a mild-mannered vinegar such as apple. This is not a place for balsamic.) These vitamins and minerals give the immune system a significant boost and are said to help everything from aching muscles to intestinal problems.
But the main reasons to bother slow-brewing a bone broth is the wholesome feeling that overtakes you as you sip away. And there’s not a speck of kale in sight!
Guest Author: Monda Rosenberg