Summer's practically at my doorstep, and here I am writing about "hot chicken water," as my friend Nancy called it yesterday morning. I've been under the weather this week and my tastebuds have turned ascetic. It's weird what we end up subsisting on when the chips are down, and in my case, it's been: ginger ale, buttered toast, and cups of chicken broth. I never drink ginger ale when I'm healthy, and buttered toast is painfully boring. The only redeeming thing has been the broth.
It doesn't initially sound very impressive on its own. I don't blame you if you're staring heatedly at the computer screen, wondering what else I've come down with. Let me be explicit: Chicken stock on its own doesn't usually taste that great. Why? Because it hasn't been seasoned yet. Without salt or aromatics, stock takes on the metallic properties of dirty dishwater. The other reason why chicken broth has such a bad rap is that the stuff you get in the store is typically wan and flavorless, and not something desirably potable.
To strike a balance between healthful aliment and palette-pleaser, it helps to examine the differences between a stock and broth. I'm oversimplifying it, but essentially broth is what you get by boiling meat while stock comes from simmering the bones. There's a few other clarifications: a stock is usually simmered twice as long as a broth, which turns all of the connective tissue inside the bones into flavorful gelatin. This creates a raw stock, which looks a little bit like chicken Jell-O once it has cooled. It's not something you'd want to pour into a cup when you have a cold, but it's perfect for using as a base in risottos or soups. Because broth has a higher meat-to-bone ratio than stock, its flavor is much more delicate and nuanced. Usually a broth has a watery consistency, and once it's done, it's ready to be enjoyed on its own. So: stock is heartier, broth tastes better.
Personally, I like a bastard version of the two, and I'll tell you why. The gelatin in stock is great for a haywire immune system, but it's the soothing aromatics in broth that send off of my liquid gold taste receptors. As you can tell, I'm not one for compromising taste when it comes to my health.
I never use a recipe when I make my bastard broth--I use what's on hand, let it simmer for an hour, and add a generous amount of salt if I'm to use it immediately. If I'm making a batch for later on, I reduce the salt by at least half. I make a half dozen quarts on a day when I'm lounging at home, and then I shove them in the freezer. I'm a compulsive scrimper, and my freezer is full of stock-ready ingredients. For fish stock, I save shrimp shells. I save onion, celery, and carrot scraps in a bag in my freezer, along with fennel stalks, parsley stems, or parsnip peels. It takes about 3 hours, depending on what you like. If you're going for something more brothy, strain it then and there. If you like gelatinous stock, let the pot simmer for up to 6 hours.
Once the stock/broth is finished, it's easy to turn into risotto or soup like the one above (one of my favorite tricks: shredded chicken, tortilla, cabbage, and chopped onion.) But on days where you're having delirious fever dreams about a two-headed cyclops and can hardly lift a finger, it doesn't hurt to sleepwalk into the kitchen, remove a frozen quart of bastard's broth, and place it in a bowl of hot water. While you nap and try to ward of the cold chills, the stock will thaw, and once it's ready, all you have to do is reheat it and drink to your health.
Basic Chicken Broth/Stock(AKA Bastard Broth)Everything is interchangeable here. Add a little fennel if you like, or whatever you have on hand, maybe some chicken wings taking up room in the freezer. The curry is my secret ingredient--it brings out a nicely spicy, savory complexity (a little reminiscent of Lipton's cup-o-soup--yes, i said it). Omit the curry and reduce the salt if you want a more blank-sheet stock.Ingredients:1 4-5 lb roasting chicken, broken down, neck, wings, and backbone included1 large yellow onion, quartered, skin on2 carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces3 stalks of celery, cut into 2 inch pieces1 parsnip, cut into 2 inch pieces6 cloves of garlic, in their sheathsa handful of parsley stemsa handful of thyme sprigs1 teaspoon curry powder (opt.)1 bay leaf6 peppercorns1 1/2 teaspoons sea saltDirections:1. Place all ingredients in a large 10 qt. stock pot. Cover with 4 quarts of water.2. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 3 hours, occasionally skimming the froth that bubbles to the surface. Don't worry about skiming the fat just yet, it will add complexity to the broth, and will be easier to skim once the stock has cooled.3. If a more gelatinous stock is desired, remove the chicken from the pot after 45 minutes.* Shred the meat from the bones and set aside. Return the bones to the simmering pot, and to simmer for up 4-5 more hours.4. Once it's done, pour the stock over a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Divide amongst quart-size containers. Allow the stock to cool completely if you wish to freeze it, or use straightaway in soup or on its own.Yields 4 qts. Keeps 3 months in the freezer.*If you're like me and hate waste, remove the chicken after 45 minutes to collect the meat, then return to bones to the pot. It's a great way to pinch two meals out of one ingredient. The poached chicken is excellent in salads.