Taking Stock

When I saw today’s Prompt du Jour, I immediately thought “Yellow Journalism”. Being a radio news readin’ guy that’s a subject I’m acutely aware of, especially these days. I was all set to go off on a(nother) self righteous defense of my chosen profession, pontificating on how a free and independent press is essential to democracy. Then after that I’d start in on a vitriolic tirade about how Steve Bannon, evil Grand Vizier advisor to the President of the United States (edit: and, I can’t believe this, just moments ago promoted to the NSC’s principals committee, godhelpusall), can pronounce “the media is the opposition party”, while simultaneously adding an ominous warning to the Fourth Estate to “keep its mouth shut”. Y’know, the usual.

But it’s Sunday and I’m off the clock. Anyone wants to pay me SAG/AFTRA rates, I’ll scribe it. Otherwise, until 4:30 tomorrow morning when I start writing my first newscast of the day I don’t wanna even even THINK about how the current administration seems hell bent on turning us into Turkmenistan, complete with gold, rotating memorial to the nation’s leader. (since replaced with a stationary model, alas). (And yes, I know the memorial is to their PREVIOUS leader. But don’t expect the current Cheeto in Chief to wait for that nicety. “It’ll be beautiful! Amazing! And the Chinese will pay for it!“)

So instead I’ll write about cooking. You have been warned.

Years ago I had the great good fortune to work alongside a fabulous saucier at a ritzy little restaurant called “L’Auberge de France”. It was my second cooking gig, having been sent there by my first chef in order to broaden my culinary horizon.

(This is a very old school European way of training chefs. You apprentice to a chef who teaches you the basics, then after a year or two s/he arranges to have you cook in other kitchens to learn other techniques and styles. You might spend a month, you might spend a year, in your new kitchen. Then off you go to yet another restaurant to learn even more. After you’ve finished your Grand Tour 5, 6 years later,  you’ve had a really good grounding in each brigade and can now start working your way up to sous chef or even executive chef status somewhere.)

Anyway, at L’Auberge I was a line cook – saute, primarily – but also assigned to help with prep during off hours (like most line cooks). A large chunk of a restaurant’s day is taken up with drudge work you never see on FoodTV porn shoots. Prep takes up probably 90% of the back of the house’s time. The other 10% is service, much of which consists of just assembling dishes from all the stuff you just spent hours chopping and peeling and mixing and putting in plastic or steel tubs.

This being a classic French establishment, sauces played a huge role. They had a dedicated saucier – one of only two restaurants I ever worked at that did – and a huge part of each day’s prep revolved around his sauce production. In fact, in order to produce the basic meat sauce bases (first stock, then from that: “Glace de Viande”,”Jus de Veau”, “Espagnole”, and finally the reduced, enriched “Demi-Glace”) most of us had to work on the restaurant’s closed days, since that was the only time you could dedicate that many resources to one single dish.

By the time my stint there ended and I moved on to an Italian place, I was pretty well practiced at producing not only all the mother sauces, but also many, many of the constituent daughter sauces, plus emulsified and dessert sauces. In many ways, this is still my favorite field of fine cooking, although I rarely get to use the overwhelming majority of what I learned any more. I mean, when the first line of a recipe reads, “Get 15 pounds of beef shins and 15 pounds of veal shins, saw them into 3-inch chunks and splinter them”, you know you’re gonna have a tough time just with space considerations alone. Not to mention cost. And that’s just one ingredient; the list goes on rather extensively after that.

For the most part, then, I stick with chicken stock for the vast majority of my meat sauces. “Fond Blanc de Volaille”, and the veloute made from it, is relatively quick, infinitely less expensive, and works pretty well in just about any dish you would normally use beef stock. Or at least, that’s what I’ve convinced myself is the case.

So today I decided to make up a batch of chicken stock. Partly because I was running low, and partly because my local grocery has chickens on sale for 79-cents a pound this week. Woot! I went shopping this morning and came back with four whole chickens. One is roasting on a bed of carrots and fennel right now, two are in the freezer, and the fourth is being made into stock.

I’m doing something a little different this time with my stock production, though. Years ago I read an article by some celebrated chef or other, and he was singing the praises of a way of making chicken stock that he had recently come up with. Basically, he took a whole chicken, stuck it in a pot, added no liquid, put the lid on, then stuck that entire pot inside a much larger one that was partially filled with simmering water. (A “bain-marie”, if you’re familiar.) This was kept at a low simmer for 8 – 10 hours, after which you’re left with pure, concentrated chicken essence. No dilution from added water, like traditional stock. I gave it a try back then and it was indeed excellent, although as you might expect the volume was very much lower than when made the usual way. It’s probably telling that I don’t remember making it ever again following that first batch.

But this morning, looking at four naked chickens on my counter, it hit me that this might be a good time to give it another shot. Particularly as I have – you guessed it – a theme-appropriate bright yellow cooking vessel! It’s kismet, I tell you.

Oh, one other thing. I’ve had a hankering for some Asian dishes that require Chinese style chicken stock. So I’m varying the original recipe – which pretty much just calls for a chicken and nothing else – and adding in some aromatics to suit my anticipated future dishes. Home cookin’, baby. There are no rules.

Ok, so here’s the mis en place. A chicken, ginger (I’m not using the whole thing, just a few slices), star anise, scallions, and white pepper. Two cooking vessels, one nestled inside the  other. That’s it:

stock-1

And here it is ready to go. The chicken’s been skinned and the aromatics stuffed in the body cavity. Just have to pour hot water between the two pots and set it to simmer:

stock-2

I won’t know if this works for another couple of hours. When I pull it off the stove I’ll update this entry with pics of the finished product (unless it sucks and I’m too embarrassed and worried that my reputation will be ruined, ruined!).

I’m sorry those of you who are not cooking pedants and were bored stiff by this entry (if you even made it this far). I’ll come back with more risible fare in the not-too-distant future. It’s just that, y’know, yellow. I didn’t really have an option.

Later! (Hopefully)

.

UPDATE

C’est fini.

After 7 and a half hours in a bain-marie, this is what we have:

stock-3

I don’t know if you can make it out, but that’s just shy of 3 cups of stock (technically “broth”) in the measuring cup. In fact, it went just over 3 cups when I added the liquid that pooled at the bottom of the chicken while taking the picture.

It was strained through muslin, and only required the slightest de-fatting (no skin).

One good sign: the chicken meat on the left looks like it’s nice and poached, but it has absolutely no flavor at all. Not even good for cold chicken salad later. All the flavor got dumped into that elixir of a stock.

The stock itself, on tasting, was intense. There’s no other word for it. Look at that color. You usually only get color like that with roast chicken stock. This rich amber wasn’t from roasted bones, but rather just sheer concentration. Very unctuous mouthfeel, also. If anything, it’s going to need to be diluted for some dishes.

So there ya go. I think I’m going to start making chicken stock this way more often. Not every time, because it’s just too…too… for a lot of applications. But I tell ya, I could pass this off as a double consommé de volaille no problem at all, practically as-is. All I’d have to do is clarify it and no one would guess I hadn’t gone through the usual time consuming process that requires. I know I wouldn’t.

Alright, time to take the toque off and get to bed. Tomorrow morning at 4:30 I’ve got to go back to chronicling the destruction of the free world.

And that’s something you can take stock in.

Ciao!

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28 thoughts on “Taking Stock

  1. THAT’S what I’ve been missing – the star anise. I knew the stock was in need of an extra something. Thank you! Not that my family complains. I make a mean garlic chicken from a similar base, though I did add some water to the mix. And frankly I do periodically use a crock pot to cook tougher cuts of meats (I know – it’s sacrilegious, but again – family doesn’t complain, therefore nyah.)

    Our local grocer had whole chickens for 57 cents a pound this week, so I stocked up as well – pun intended and dredged in sarcasm, before broiling at Trump-Hell-in-prep degrees. Just sayin’.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There is nothing – nothing – out of bounds when it comes to home cooking. In a day and age where it’s incredibly easy to just get take-out or purchase a ready made meal at the grocery store, anyone who makes even a minimal effort to get in the kitchen and produce something for themselves or their family deserves applause. Home cooking should not be held to the same standards as professional cooking. Ever. If you use a crock pot – or canned soups or frozen pastry or whatever – god bless you. Keep doing it.

      57 cents a pound! What a fowl deal!! 🙂

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      1. Considering the drive I do every day (my commute clocks in right around 3 hours daily) and the disability, I figure anything resembling home-cooked food is a win. Ergo crock pots, etc. And yes, the occasional canned soup, though I use those rarely any more. I do use frozen or pre-chopped fresh veggies, because of my hands, but I still figure that’s a win-win over the premade salt bombs that are McDonald’s and TV Dinners.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh – a lot of times I also add a touch of butter to the stock, depending on its intended use. The oils pick up the chicken and aromatics, and add richness to the blend. Not low-fat, obviously, and not suitable for all recipes, but I find it works well for most.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can’t say as I’ve ever done that, but I can see why you would like it. If I could suggest though, if you’re just looking to add richness you might want to instead add a couple of chicken feet. Or barring that, some unflavored gelatin. Both will give body and richness, without the fat. And I say that not because I’m against fat per se, but because it won’t emulsify. For some applications that’s a no-no. I mean, if you’re making it into veloute or using it as the base of a complex soup or stew, it’s not matter. But for consomme and things of that ilk, a separated layer of butter would ruin the dish.

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      1. I agree it doesn’t work for all applications. But for a creamy chicken-rice soup, for example, it’s the bomb. I probably wouldn’t use it for aforementioned Chinese food, or really anything involving clear broth (except my homemade chicken noodle soup. Don’t judge me, lol).

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  3. Over here cheap chickens taste fishy as that’s what they’ve been fed (well, that’s my theory as to the reason), so I buy free range, if possible organic and treat it as almost a luxury indredient rather than cheap and cheerful. When I was staying in the US more than one person I stayed, with who considered themselves a decent cook, covered chicken with ‘chicken seasoning’ and chicken tenderiser’ which made me believe US chickens must be shite. Am I wrong? I can’t imagine you’d be happy with fishy tasting chicken and I’m betting your shelves have never been home to chicken tenderiser. If I come back I’d probably let you cook me a meal. x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with Jenise. I have never had an issue with the less expensive brands of chicken here in the States. Taste and texture are, I’m sure, better with the more expensive organic, free range chickens. But they are well out of my budget range and frankly…not to be too blunt….technique goes a long way to evening things up. I’ve never been disappointed in my chicken dishes as a result of a lesser bird. I really do think your friend’s applications of tenderizer and flavor enhancer were unnecessary, and should be relegated to the dustbin in favor of perhaps….calling me for advice 😉

      And listen, should you ever be so unfortunate as to find yourself in the festering swamp that is the northwest portion of New Jersey, USA, I would consider it an honor to cook for you. I mean that.

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  4. Annanotbob4: Are you in the UK? Presuming nothing changed since I lived there, yes, chickens are fed fish meal. Some if most, and the more expensive chickens get switched to grain before they meet their demise. Or so I was told. Industrially produced American chickens are not universally tough; rather I think the tenderizer thing was particular to your hosts. It’s simply a flavor they like. I certainly never run into it or see ads for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Cecilia! I normally don’t add star anise to my chicken broth (although it’s a really good flavor booster for beef). However, since I intended for this chicken broth to be used in an Asian dish, I added it this time. Normally if I was making western dishes I would leave it out. I hope this helps, and thanks for commenting! 🙂

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  5. I have been wanting a huuuuuuuuuuge pot like your yellow one for ages, and now you finally gave me the excuse – what took you so long? Also, be advised if a tall, hairy Norwegian dude accuses you of giving his wife ideas, then that’ll be my hubby and he is not dangerous. He just makes noise.

    Mais, Monsieur Le Chef, j’ai un question: why do you de-fat the broth? Doesn’t the fat add flavor?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Woof. Sorry for the delay replying. Too much Glögg last night!

      You’re right, the fat does have a lot of flavor. However, because stocks and broths are usually not meant to be served on their own but rather produced to be an ingredient in other recipes – recipes where fat might not be appropriate, or a different fat like butter is desired instead – they are generally de-fatted (and often clarified if you’re anal enough to care about such things, like a certain fat New Jersey ex-chef I know).

      If I was making this for a specific dish like, say, a country soup or something like the regional American dish “Chicken ‘n Dumplin’s” that my trailer trash wife loves, then I’d leave the fat in. But when you make a large batch that you don’t know yet what it will be used in, you take the fat out. It can always be added back in. (I save the skimmed fat, and use it for sautes and such.)

      Good question, mon petit fromage!

      🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As someone who grew up on, and whose kids are addicted to, chicken ‘n dumpings, I have to call you out on referring to us as “trailer trash”. No matter how perfectly the patched and holey-soled shoe may fit, the preferred terminology is “redneck”, or regionally, “hilllbilly”.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Ahah! Thank you so much for clarifying answer. I have started to lay pressure on the ol’ Sir Nerdalot to get me one of those huge pots that you have, and he did look a tad confused when I answered his question of what I need it for with “so I can liquify a whole chicken and even defat it!” He just mumbled “sorry I asked” and continued to shoot things in the face on his computer… 😀

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Lol. Listen – don’t get fixated on the equipment. It’s the technique that’s important. You could probably even do something like putting the chicken in a large plastic tub with a lid – or even a zip-lock bag – and stick that in a big stock pot set on simmer.

          On the other hand…that big honkin’ enameled cast iron pot is a hoot to have. It can make the classic French “Poulet en cocotte”, but with a whole turkey! And if you ever need a spare boat anchor, there ya go. So keep the pressure on Sir Nerdalot to get one! (BTW, mine was made in Belgium, if that’s any help.)

          🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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