December 30, 2015
I’ve blogged many times about how easy and wonderful it is to make chicken stock (here for example). I’ve used both Mike Vrobel’s recipe on Dad Cooks Dinner and a Cook’s Illustrated recipe (the similar recipe from the free site Americas Test Kitchen recipe is here). They are both great and since I’ve given both 5 star reviews you’d think I’d have settled on a method; but, that’s not me. I did some research and made some changes to my approach.
Mike Vrobel puts chicken wings (or other chicken parts) in a pressure cooker with large chunks of onion, carrot, and celery along with spices (salt and pepper), and aromatics like garlic, bay leaves. America’s Test Kitchen, on the other hand, sautés the chicken and then the diced onion creating the maillard reaction to produce more flavor. Over time I’ve come to make stock using Mike Vrobel’s recipe because it is so easy, not to mention delicious. Nevertheless, I’ve often wondered if I’m missing something by not browning the ingredients first.
I read J. Kenji López-Alt’s technique in The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science cook book for some help. López-Alt is serious about his chicken stock: he grinds up chicken wing tips and chicken backs in a food processor to the consistency of ground chicken to get even more flavor. I also looked at the Food Lab’s Serious Eats website and found Daniel Gritzer’s detailed analysis of how to make excellent chicken stock. What kind of chicken meat should be used (breast, wings, bones)? How should the aromatics be handled (diced v “chunked” / sauté v raw)? What about skimming? What is the best ratio of chicken to water? What is the best cooking time? Daniel has tried it all and reported his findings.
The takeaway for me was that I was on the right track using a ratio of 1 quart of water per pound of chicken wings and skipping the sauté. Serious Eats is okay with this ratio but more chicken is better. Daniel Glitzer used eight pounds of chicken for four quarts of water! In addition, he increases the amount of vegetables and dices them instead of cutting them into large pieces.
So, I took my basic recipe based on Mike Vrobel’s site and adjusted it with the tips from the Serious Eats web site and the Food Labs cook book. Here I have three carrots and three celery stalks instead of one of each. I’ve also added some parsley; I wouldn’t have gone out to buy it just for the stock but I got some for my New Year’s Day dish so had some to spare.
Rather than chopping the vegetables into large pieces I diced them to create more surface area.
I know, I know; this is a chicken stock recipe. Where’s the chicken? I purposely left out pictures of the chicken because raw chicken is not photogenic at all and I don’t like handling my camera after having my hands in it. I used three pounds of chicken wings – each wing separated into three parts; drumette, wingette, and tip. I also had about 3/4 of a pound of chicken bones from a previous chicken cook.
Since I was rethinking the stock I went all out and followed The Food Lab cook book suggestion to grind up the wing tips and chopped up back bone in my food processor. You really, really don’t want to see those pictures. But I was wearing nitrile gloves so I didn’t mind getting my hands in there. This is an optional step.
The extra vegetables really filled up the pot. In fact, I overloaded my six quart electric pressure cooker with all the ingredients plus almost three quarts of water. It took about 45 minutes to come up to pressure and even then couldn’t hold it. So I released the pressure, put everything in my bigger eight quart stove top pressure cooker, added a little more water to replace that lost in the pressure release. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just simmer the stock for an hour and a half in a large pot.
Eventually cooking was done and I strained the stock through a fine mesh strainer fitted with some cheese cloth.
The stock is much too hot to go in the refrigerator so to cool it down I placed the 4-quart cambro into a 12-quart and surrounded it with ice water. As an alternative you can put your container in an ice-filled sink. In the photo below you can see the fat layer starting to form at the top.
After cooling, the stock spends the night in the refrigerator to let the fat layer solidify.I take that off with a spatula and then whisk the remaining stock because it winds up with a thick, silky, gelatinous layer on top. Finally I dish it up in a quart container and a set of 2-cup containers. I put 1 2/3 cups of stock in the 2 cup containers to allow for swelling during freezing. Not to worry, the stock is so rich that even with another 1/3 cup of water added it’s much, MUCH better than store bought.
That quart container will be the base for a slow cooker tortilla soup recipe in the next week or so.