By Walter Trupp, Chef
Every time I look through a cookbook, I come across a slightly different recipe for chicken stock. With our Chef Essentials course coming up, I wanted to dedicate a bit of time on how to make the perfect chicken stock, as it will feature throughout the course. The reason why there are so many variations in chicken stock recipes is because they have different uses in later dishes.
I have come up with a real versatile chicken stock that can be used with any recipe.
I’ve experimented with several versions over the years and often I would incorporate new and unconventional techniques. My experimentations have led to some amazing findings and conclusions that may surprise you. The criteria I set for the ultimate chicken stock is that it must satisfy a delicate soup or sauce, a rustic risotto or bean stew, and of course it has to be suitable for just plain eating. Additionally, I wanted to stay away from the wastefulness of my fine dining past and not lose any part of the chicken, as using good ingredients costs money.
For the following recipe, I shopped all organic at the wonderful Prahran Market (which is the best food market in Melbourne and the reason why we opened our school next to it) and spent a total of $24.50 (spices not included). With leftovers, you will easily feed a family of four using the meat and possibly vegetables.
Back in the kitchen, this attempt at making a chicken stock was based on four previous trial runs. I was hoping that this would be the last, as we all had gotten a bit tired of boiled chicken and chicken stock!
Earlier attempts included a stock made of a whole chicken, one using chicken drumsticks, one with just bones and one with only wings. The wing version was very good, but it is often quite difficult to purchase only organic chicken wings. The most delicate stock used the whole chicken, so I wanted to give that another try, but it had to different – just a little bit more special.
With all the ingredients laid onto the kitchen table, I wrote out a list:
Note on chicken: The most important factor in this recipe is the quality of the chicken you use. Cheap, conventional chickens will give you an unbalanced and thin stock, which often tastes a bit soapy. You will find that cheap chickens create, what I like to call, ‘the protein problem’. This is where protein particles constantly release from the meat and often make stock cloudy and gritty tasting. Good quality chicken stock will show its real strength when it is ready cooked. When chilled, it will turn into a jelly. Good quality organic chickens show balanced aromas with a clear and strong chicken flavour.
1.3-1.6kg of fresh organic chicken
The green of 1 medium-sized leek
2 sticks of celery (leaves* removed)
2 medium-sized carrots, cleaned but not peeled, cut into small cubes
3 small or 1 large onions, peeled
½ Tablespoon black peppercorns (you can use white** ones)
Few parsley stalks
2 garlic cloves, peeled (if they have a yellowish shoot, remove it)
6-7 medium-sized button mushrooms
5L cold water
10g fresh ginger ***sliced
*Celery is better without the leaves, as they tend to turn bitter if cooked for a few minutes. An alternative is to add them to the stock just a few minutes before you stop boiling it
** Black peppercorns are generally more aromatic due to being unpeeled, unlike their white counterparts, which tend to be hotter in flavour. Black peppercorns, in my opinion, give the stock a floral aroma.
*** Ginger needs to be fresh, which means it should have a softish skin, which is easily rubbed off. Older or golden coloured ginger is quite strong in flavour. Therefore, if that’s the one you have to use, just two to three thin slices will do.
First, de-bone the chicken (something you learn at Chef Essentials), remove the skin and cut it into strips. Cut all the meat into golf-ball sized cubes.
Chop the bones roughly. Something I didn’t do for this recipe was to wash the chicken or the chicken bones. Many chicken stocks call for you to wash the chicken. If you want to have a real crystal clear stock, you should actually wash the bones and skin (not the meat) and dry them in a strainer. I purposely did not wash any parts of the chicken, as I wanted to go for maximum flavour and minerals; washing would not help with either of these characteristics.
Next, I placed the bones, skin and meat into a really thick copper pot (3.5). I like to use copper as the heat is very even and they reduce stocks much quicker. They also use less energy. If you don’t have one, any thick stainless steel or cast iron pot will do.
I covered the chicken with water, turned the heat on and quickly brought it to the boil.
Just before the chicken starts to boil, you will find that the whole thing might just look like an inside of a dirty mop bucket, but don’t stress, this is just all the proteins releasing out of the bones. Once the water boils, the protein will curdle and form a greyish foam on the surface.
I skimmed the foam off the surface immediately and several times over. I had to be quick in this instance, because if left for too long, the foam would cook apart and the particles would boil back into the stock, turning it cloudy and bitter. I skimmed the surface for as long as it needed, but did not worry too much about a little of it sticking to the sides of the pot (also don’t be concerned by the foam sticking to the bottom of the pot). I did not throw the foam away (although it looks awful), as it contains a lot of good chicken fat which you could use for other cooking purposes. If you do this, let the foam stand for 1 hour as the fat separates itself onto the top before I skimming it off with a tablespoon.
Once the stock was boiling, I removed the first of the foam and turned the heat down so the stock just simmered.
After approximately 30 minutes, I removed the meat pieces by picking them very carefully out between the bones. I removed the meat, for no other reason than to not overcook and waste it (I actually turned it into a salad), but you could leave it in and cook it longer if you want to use it for a pie or something else where dry chicken is not a problem. If I were to cook the meat longer, not only would it be dryer, it would have made the stock stronger. But this would have failed one of my criteria – to not waste any part of the bird.
I simmered the remainder of the stock for a total time of 2 hours.
While simmering, I cleaned and cut all the vegetables. As you see in the photos, I cut them quite small (not the usual rough chop or whole vegetable versions – which I personally like). You will have also noticed that so far I made three fundamental changes to a classic chicken stock: the meat is in pieces, not adding the vegetables from the beginning, and finally the addition of mushrooms. Mushrooms are an interesting one as they are my answer to monosodium glutamate (MSG). Mushrooms are high in natural – and therefore healthy – glutamate, and a few of them adds a sweetness to the stock and really brings out the best in the other ingredients. Way back at my restaurant in Austria, I always added a few mushrooms to stocks and sauces, which is something I learned from one of my visits to Alain Chapel`s restaurant. He made a mushroom cappuccino from only mushrooms, water and cream (which was one of the best things I have ever tasted).
I added my vegetables later, because I found in one of my earlier attempts that adding the vegetables too early, the real vegetable flavours would weaken to be almost non-existent. The same goes for pepper. In these earlier attempts where I would add the vegetables early, the stock would taste best after approximately 30 minutes.
My conclusion was that vegetables, herbs and spices needed to be added during the last 30 minutes or so of cooking. They also need to be chopped finely, in order to just cook through and release all their flavour and nutrients into the stock. So after I adding them, I increased the heat and brought the stock quickly back to the boil. I reduced the heat and simmered the stock for another 20 minutes. Then I turned off the heat and rested it for about 10 minutes. The purpose of the resting was to allow any floating protein particles to sink to the bottom.
Next, I strained the stock carefully through a very fine strainer. I used a ladle to transfer the stock from the pot and later I very carefully poured the stock directly from the pot, but I made sure that not too much movement was going on. When looking into the pot, I found that there were still a few particles floating around, and therefore I strained the stock through a muslin cloth or thin kitchen cloth. The stock I had now was not completely clear (which was due to not washing the bones), but it definitely had lots of flavour and minerals, which would have been lost with washing.
So it was time to taste the whole thing. I have to be honest, it tasted quite floral and fresh, which was due to way I used the vegetables. But it was still a bit reserved because there was not any salt in the stock. It would have been great for eating and Dorota thought it tasted great, so I kept half and I thought I would reduce the remaining half to see how it tasted when used for sauces and seasoning (more about that later).
Reducing a stock is a science of its own, and this is well explained in our Chef Essentials sauce session. With reducing liquids in cooking, I want to stress the most important rule: you have to reduce liquids very quickly, ideally using two or three pots. You need to create a large surface area in order for the water to evaporate quickly. Reducing lots of liquid in one single pot on a low heat just creates a boring and soapy end result.
Quick reducing preserves flavours and slow reducing destroys them.
After reducing the stock by approximately one third, it started to show its real strength. It began to taste very concentrated and I would say this is the very stock that can be applied universally to create elegant sauces, foams, stews and Asian stock-based dishes.
I wanted to go a step further and continued boiling the stock. I must admit that the fresh vegetable flavours started to disappear, but not at all in a bad way, as further reducing would still be suitable for a sauce or for seasoning purposes.
Here are my Reducing Results:
The original unreduced stock turned into a light jelly when chilled, which was nice to see as it showed I used a good chicken. From an eating point of view, it was perfect for a stock to drink and for use in cooking.
By reducing the stock very quickly and to 60% of its original volume, it turned into a firm but still soft jelly when chilled. It was a strong tasting chicken stock suitable for Asian style soups where pasta and vegetables are added (which would dilute the slightly stronger flavour).
Reducing the stock to 40%, turned it into quite a firm jelly* when chilled, and at that stage it was perfect for sauces and as a base of pureed soups, broths and stews.
Reducing the stock to 25%, I got a very firm jelly when the stock was chilled and I would say that this would be the ideal base for a sauce such as a veloute or a red wine glaze to round up a vinaigrette etc. Reduced stock like this is also the ideal seasoning tool for any food that misses depth, body, volume or that famous ‘something’. It can lift a soup, risotto or sauce to a different level. This version of stock I would usually use for freezing down, as it takes very little space in your freezer. What I do is pour it into the ice cube tray of my freezer. Once frozen, I place them into a tightly closed plastic bag. In our kitchen, those cubes are one of the best kept seasoning secrets, not to mention that they are very nutritious as they are packed with proteins and minerals.
You can easily double or triple the recipe
You can pick the veggies out and use them for a soup a salad etc. they are still not overcooked and quite full of flavour.
When storing any of those stocks, I found they do very well for three days, after which the vegetable flavour seems to disappear. You can freeze them, but just make sure that the stock is well wrapped, as it acts like a sponge when it comes to absorbing freezer flavours.
If you are interested in learning more cooking techniques look up our Cooking Classes Calendar.