It was another deep Fall day. I don’t know how else to describe those days of late autumn, when the trees have sadly dropped their colorful accessories to the ground like millions of tiny faux diamonds abandoned as the beautiful debutant moves away to a new party and a new season. One with wood smoke; cold, long nights; and the winter Holidays.
Deep Fall is a melancholy time, but it is also one of my favorites. It’s a time of hunting, harvesting, gathering and storing for the winter to come. We usually aren’t completely prepared, those of us who enjoy thinking we live off the land around us, and it comes as some surprise when the first snows are upon us.
Firewood is stacked in the shed. A pig is happily fattening himself in the lot, enjoying his days of pampering and care before he makes the ultimate sacrifice so that we may nourish ourselves through the cold season until spring. The chickens are grumpily pecking around the yard, irritated by the sudden change in weather. There is a turkey or three scavenging in the back lots, with their wild brethren close by, awaiting harvest time.
It’s a wonderful time, a scary time, a time to rejoice in what you have accomplished and look forward to a New Year as the ball drops to mark another trip around the sun.
Then there are the Holidays. Oh, dear, God. The Holidays! The word brings both joy and a shudder in most people. Professional cooks are stealing themselves for long, hot driven shifts that will leave them exhausted, staggering, footsore and happy all at once. Suburban Moms are wondering just how they are to manage the schedules they set for themselves months ago, when this time of year seemed so far away. Chasing children, carpooling, working, cooking, buying: It is a time of great stress.
Then there is chicken stock. Take a day off. You can still work. You can still answer the phone, check email and have a productive day. The day you are stressed, overworked and overwhelmed by the stress of the season – make stock.
Chicken stock is a staple of our diet. At least it should be. It makes risotto better, gravies richer, soups more delicious, and everything better. Chicken and dumplings are suddenly unbelievable. Chicken noodle soup becomes divine.
Don’t use the shit they sell in the store. Organic or not, it’s mostly salt. It is flash steamed with mechanically separated chicken, condensed into a liquid, end loaded with tons of sodium. It’s not any good. I’ve never looked at a box of chicken broth and thought, “I’m going to drink that!”
Homemade chicken stock has depth, flavor, and character and makes you feel safe and warm and fuzzy and sleepy and happy all at the same time. It’s like a favorite blanket by a fire. It’s also crazy easy to make.
You’ll need a couple of chicken carcasses, or, better yet, four chicken backs and a pound or so of liver, gizzards and hearts. Carrots, celery, garlic and herbs round out the basic recipe. The wonderful thing is, you can easily modify it to your taste! Here is my basic recipe:
- Four chicken backs (I buy mine at the market).
- One pound of assorted chicken liver, hearts and gizzards.
- Eight carrots, tops removed, one-inch chop.
- One half-pound of celery, one-inch chop.
- Assorted root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips and radishes.
- Garlic, four heads, peeled and split in half.
- Then, my secret ingredients: Ginger, (About two ounces by weight or a small root, peeled and chopped), Cinnamon sticks (four), Dried hot peppers (I use four, if you want it hotter, go for it), Eight Bay Leaves, two lemons (cut into slices) and two apples, cut into slices). Two leeks, cut in a one-inch dice with the tops discarded.
- Peppercorns, salt, garlic salt, cucumber salt, oregano, paprika and other spices to taste.
Place the chicken in a five gallon heavy stock pot. Using about two tablespoons of olive oil, stir and cook until lightly brown, but NOT burnt. This will turn your stock an unsightly dark brown and leave a bitter aftertaste.
Throw in the onions, garlic, celery, root vegetables and simmer for about ten minutes. Dump everything else in. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a low boil. Reduce to a simmer. Walk away. Stir every hour or so to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. Enjoy a house full of wonderful smells. Go for a walk. Taste the stock. Season to taste.
Reduce by half, about two gallons. Strain the solids carefully without pressing them. This will add cloudiness to your stock.
Pour into containers of your choice and either freeze of refrigerate it. Pour yourself a cup. Or two. Sit on the couch with a book and a remote control. Pretend you are snowed in and you just made it all on a wood stove, as my mother did. Here are some tips for storage:
There are endless ways to store stock. You can freeze it in one-pint wide mouth jars (this is important, some jars will break when freezing), freezer bags, ice cube trays, and refrigerate it for about three weeks. It’s great for everything but cereal. Maybe even cereal.
Enjoy your holidays!!