Friday November 23, 2012

It is true that there are perfectly good store-bought chicken stocks. It is also true that I use them frequently as there is no easier way to transform noodles, a couple of vegetables and maybe even some leftover chicken into soup for dinner.

But when there is a chicken carcass available, I always make homemade stock. Even the convenience of prepared doesn't outweigh the flavor of stock that has burbled on the stove for an hour or so, and getting as much out of that chicken appeals to my frugal side.

Before I knew better, I used to just pop the whole leftover carcass in a pot, fill it part way with water, add a couple of bay leaves, a carrot, a stalk of celery and an onion and let it simmer for a while. This stock always fell short of what I was trying to achieve as it was routinely foggy-looking and overly seasoned. Of course I still used it, but it wasn't the clear, poultry- tasting stock that I was looking for. I discovered that my technique was definitely the problem.

My mom showed me the tricks that she had learned, which did result in the delicious stock that I hoped for. While it's not hard to make, I wish it were a little less hands-on. I liken it to eating a lobster; lots of cracking, snapping, scraping and spattering. It's not for the faint of heart, and I have certainly helped friends who felt squeamish about the whole business.


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But, if you don't mind getting personal with your food, or want a good stock so badly that you are willing to move beyond any funny feelings you may have, this will give you that stock that you are looking for.

If you are a vegetarian, I'll apologize right now and tell you that there really isn't any reason to read any further. But if not, chances are that you have the remains of a turkey left from a big meal yesterday. If you do, feel free to finish off or freeze the large pieces of meat still hanging around and then pull off whatever smaller bits are still attached. Put these aside for the soup that you will be able to make once this process is over. Then put on an apron, roll up your sleeves and get out a large stockpot and put it near the sink - it's time to get to work!

It's important to understand the main objective for preparation before you get started.

Cloudy, over-seasoned and muddy-flavored stocks are the result of a 'dirty' carcass. You want to get the bones as clean as possible, getting rid of any bits of fat, skin, stuffing, innards; everything except true meat and connective tissue.

This is why I head to the sink.

Starting with the legs and wings, pull off and discard any skin and fat still attached (don't give it to the dog no matter how pathetic and hopeful they look - it will surely give them indigestion).

Any meat you come across can be added to what you have put aside earlier for soup, or sandwiches or other delicious turkey leftovers. Put the bones into the stockpot.

Now onto the tricky part, the body cavity. Break or cut (kitchen shears work well) the body cavity open. Pick out any bits of good stuffing still remaining and set aside with the turkey bits. Here's where the sink comes in - discard and rinse away all clinging matter, which usually means that I will spend some time running my thumbs in between ribs to get everything that will come out removed. Continue to break the carcass into smaller pieces if you find that helpful, adding the cleaned carcass parts to the pot. Once you have the carcass cleaned up and in the pot, feel free to give your hands a good cleaning - you've done the hard part. While some people insist on browning the bones when making stock, I don't do this when working with poultry as I prefer a brighter tasting stock. However, if you want to translate this recipe to make beef or lamb stock, I would highly recommend browning at this point. With chicken or turkey, I simply cover the cleaned carcass with water and add a stalk of celery, cut into three pieces and a large carrot, scrubbed and cut in half. If you happen to have a parsnip on hand, give it a scrub and pop it in as well; it will add a nice sweetness to the stock.

That's it. No onion, no garlic, nothing else. I bring this just to a boil, and then lower the heat and allow it to simmer gently, uncovered, for about three hours. Because the carcass is clean, there should be very little scum to skim. To finish, pour the stock through a colander into a large pot and discard the solids. For safety, cool as quickly as possible (submerging in a big vat of ice is perfect) and refrigerate. Don't put the hot stock in the refrigerator to cool - not only will it not cool down quickly enough, but it will heat up the contents of your fridge as well. Once cooled, skim the fat, refrigerate and use within 3 days or freeze, but always bring stock to a boil and boil for two minutes before using.

If you like a bit more flavor, experiment with adding some onion and even garlic, as well as some thyme and parsley. And if you want to make larger quantities of stock, freeze cleaned carcasses, adding new ones to them until you have enough to make a really large batch. Increase the simmer time to about six hours for a larger batch.

A big turkey carcass only comes a couple times a year, but why not buy a chicken to roast weekly, providing not only a delicious roast dinner, but the guarantee of soup or chicken pie or a rich rice pilaf for later in the week. This week, though, enjoy the turkey and the further bounty and satisfaction that you can simmer out of it!

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn't have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at jpottercooks@gmail.com.