“When we eat from a wide open space, from a place of permission and empowerment, we make choices based on how foods taste to us, how we enjoy them and, most importantly, how they make us feel. This requires us to be present and pay attention while we eat, a difficult task in our modern, fast-paced world. It may also require that we get into the kitchen and learn some basic cooking techniques so that we can explore and play with food in our own space and on our own terms.”
The nature of cooking has changed dramatically since the advent of the food blog and the internet in general. There are, quite literally, millions of recipes at your fingertips for absolutely anything you might want to make. I just typed “Roast Chicken Recipe” into my Google Search and it said there were 105,000,000 results. Talk about overwhelming! Between the sheer volume of what’s available out there and the pressure to produce Instagram worthy meals every time we we are in the kitchen, it’s enough to send anyone searching for the nearest takeout menu or frozen meal.
But before you toss away your pots and wooden spoons, consider this: Perhaps the answer to complexity is simplicity. Not in the sense that we give up cooking altogether, but instead that we get back to the very basics of things.
Perhaps its time to put the focus back on cooking techniques themselves rather than individual recipes. I went to cooking school sometime ago, and even though I have a culinary education, I still find myself scouring the internet for recipes for tonight’s dinner. What I really want from my time in the kitchen is the freedom to play, to be creative, to get in touch with what what foods taste good, what nourishes my body and what delights my senses. Always a dutiful recipe follower, it is an ongoing challenge for me to step outside of my comfort zone of knowing that something is going to turn out if I follow someone else’s instructions and actually let myself play and experiment.
But how to do this? Maybe it’s simply a matter of taking myself back to cooking school (home study version this time) and reacquainting myself with the skills, recipes and techniques that are the home cook’s building blocks, his or her artist’s tools. Homemade chicken stock is where I’ve chosen to begin. Stock is a flavorful liquid base that is the starting point for many soups, stews and braises. It the very heart and foundation of the kitchen, the most fundamental of building blocks and yet it is something we don’t give much thought to. While most people these days buy stock or broth in boxes at the grocery store, the process of making your own at home is a restorative ritual for slowing down and intentionally engaging in something that takes time to bring forth its full potential. The best part? You will be rewarded for your efforts with a golden, rich elixir that will serve as a base for some soul warming foods as we begin the transition from summer to fall.
Equipment You Will Need:
A stockpot or large Dutch oven (7 quarts or more)
Mesh Spider or Large Slotted Spoon
Fine Mesh Strainer
Basic Chicken Stock
There are many recipes for making homemade chicken stock. This is mine. Some recipes have you use chicken parts or chop the chicken into pieces before adding it to the stock. I like to leave the chicken whole as it streamlines the process, and I don’t have to go through the messy business of chopping up a raw whole chicken. My directions have you remove the chicken breast meat after an hour. This is optional but recommended as you will then have breast meat to potentially add to a soup or use in a chicken salad for lunch. After the meat has simmered for 3 hours or so, it has given all of itself to the broth and is pretty well spent. You will yield anywhere from 8-12 cups of stock from this recipe.
1 whole chicken, approximately 4 pounds, preferably organic
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 medium sized carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
3-4 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley
2 dried bay leaves
10-12 whole peppercorns
2-3 teaspoons course salt
1. Place the whole chicken in the stockpot and cover with cold water. Make sure you have enough water to cover the chicken by 2 or 3 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently. As the stock begins to come to a boil, you will notice impurities rising to the surface. Skim them away with a spoon. Continue skimming until the impurities no longer appear. This may take 20 minutes or so.
2. Add remaining ingredients to the stockpot.
3. Allow stock to simmer gently for 1 hour. Remove chicken from the pot and, using tongs, carefully remove the chicken breast meat from the carcass and set aside. Return chicken to pot. Let stock continue to simmer, uncovered, for at least 2-3 more hours, adding water as needed keep chicken and vegetables submerged. Refrigerate reserved chicken breast meat after it has cooled slightly. Use within 3 days.
4. Remove any large bones or spent vegetables from the pot using tongs or a mesh spider. Set the fine mesh strainer over a large bowl and pour the stock into the strainer, removing any solids that remain.
5. Cool stock on the counter for an hour and then cover and transfer to the refrigerator to finish cooling. When you are ready to use or freeze the stock, use a large metal spoon to skim any solidified fat from the top before proceeding.
Use and Storage:
You will notice, if you let your stock simmer for a good, long while, that it has a gelatinous quality to it once it is cold. This is a glorious thing and exactly what you want. Unlike commercially prepared stocks and broths which are a thin liquid at any temperature, homemade stock is rich in collagen to the point that it gelatinizes when cold. Once you heat it up again it will loosen and take on a luxurious, rich quality that will be incomparable to what you might buy at the store.
Refrigerated chicken stock should be used or frozen within 3 days. To freeze, ladle 2 cup portions into freezer bags, remove any air from the bag and seal. Lay bags flat inside of a pan with sides (to prevent any potentially leaky bags from getting stock all over your freezer before it is completely frozen). Once they are completely frozen, remove bags from pan and store in the freezer until ready to use. Frozen stock should be used within 3 months.