Monday, January 31, 2011

zen & the art of chicken stock

mondays are my day of rest, and great for new blog entries. here's an overview of some things i cooked up last week, along with a few tips and pointers for those interested in cooking up a storm at home. 

chicken stock:

there are always certain jobs around the kitchen that i inevitably try to avoid because i just plain 'ole hate them - breaking down cardboard boxes, portioning brownies, taking out the compost, piping brown butters & roasting lobster bodies are my least favourite jobs (oh and of course the dishes!). on the other hand there are jobs that i really like doing like making italian meringue, braising meats, getting the meat out of lobster knuckles, searing scallops and making a killer stock.
the base for my thai inspired chicken and rice soup is a money, chicken stock. it may seem like a daunting task but can be done easily and cheaply at home instead of buying those preservative and sodium laden stocks from the grocery store, plus it is so convenient to have around.
the first step is to roast chicken bones. i always like to buy whole chickens (it's way cheaper!), use the breasts for one thing, the legs and thighs for another and wings for another. then just pile all the chicken bones on a baking sheet and roast them until golden brown and delicious and your whole house smells amazing. if this sounds too labour intensive - just roast off the leftover bones from a roast chicken dinner, or even the ones from those pre-cooked chickens...

they look totally disgusting but the smell is totally insane. now you may be thinking to your self, "how the heck do you clean all that crud off the baking sheet?" well all that crud is actually flavour country, which brings me to the art of deglazing. deglazing is just a fancy word for getting all the yummy bits off the bottom of a pan and into your stock, sauce or braise - whatever you happen to be making at the time.
deglazing is accomplished by adding a liquid to a cooked on mess to lift up all the delicious brown bits from the bottom. you could use alcohol (typically wine), another stock or sauce - i had none of those at the time, so i used water - no big deal, i'm sure my french chefs from le cordon bleu would freak out but i'm not concerned. when i taught cooking classes in ottawa i always said "there are no rules in cooking, baking yes, but cooking no." just improvise, use what you have or what you want. it's the technique that counts not the ingredients.

this is what a properly deglazed pan looks like and the taste is ridiculous. it's also a great way to avoid scrubbing pans later on.

ta-dah! very little effort required.
now add the bones, deglazing liquid, aromatics and cold water to a big pot and let it simmer for a few hours until there is no flavour left in the chicken bones and it's all in the stock. since i was using this stock as the basis for a thai inspired soup, i added loads of lemongrass, ginger and garlic, but celery, carrots and onions (mirepoix) are the norm.

it looks a tad like swamp water, but who cares it smells radical! all of the aromatics get discarded - their flavour ends up in the stock so their mission in life is fulfilled - so don't worry about chopping them up all pretty. once the stock is delectable, pass it though a fine mesh strainer and your stock is finished. it's very handy to freeze it in litre portions, ready to pull out and add to soups, stews, gravies, sauces & risottos...just run it under water until a massive ice cube of stock pops out and toss it in to whatever you're making.
for my thai chicken and rice soup i add roasted chicken meat, basmati rice, nappa cabbage, bok choy, red bell pepper, red chillies, green onions, soy and a touch of sesame.

a far cry from those icky looking bones, cooked to oblivion on a baking sheet!

the chicken i've been using is from shani's farm down in the valley and it tastes so good. i've also been buying their organic sausages & pork and i ordered 10 lbs of spareribs this week for my grandmother's garlic spare rib recipe. this is one of my all time favourites and so delicious it even made it's way into the prospect cooks 2008 cookbook.

the page is a little wrinkled, dog-eared and splattered so i'm excited to see the results with shani's pork!

another great purveyor at the market is getaway farm. i have been using their grass fed beef and it is so nice. i've never had a brisket be cooked to fall-apart tenderness so quickly before. now on to the art of...


according to larousse gastronomique, braising is "a moist cooking method using a little liquid that barely simmers at a low temperature on the top of the stove or in the oven."
i love to braise, coaxing the flavour and tenderness out of a piece of meat is a great skill and is so rewarding. off cuts of meat are generally cheaper, tougher and way more flavourful. it just takes a little time and love to prepare them to their full potential.
for the brisket this week i doused it with red wine and aromatics, covered it with foil and baked it at 250 in the oven until it was fall apart and totally addictive - i may have sampled a little too much, all in an effort to perfect seasoning of course...



and this is what it looked like as a completed dish:

i think people are scared of brisket thinking it is a fatty cut, but after it's tender it's easy to "string" the beef (a new acadian term i just learned) and remove any excess fat.

i plan on braising the spareribs until they are fall off the bone for friday's main course. this past week i also had a lot of requests for lobster mac & cheese so i'll be whipping up another batch - also fresh for friday.
i also have to keep up the wide selection of desserts to fill up my display... i wasn't joking when i said the oatmeal cookies would be ginormous.

this week i'm thinking i'll add coconut cream tarts, pecan toffee candy and something festive for super bowl sunday, but we'll see...


  1. hilarious that you dislike piping brown butters! i remember when you taught me how to do it :0) i will be more than happy to do it for you this summer!

  2. I love that you are sharing your skills and ideas. Hope you are collecting these for a book. Last Friday's dinner was a BIG hit....yum, yum