Are you tired of buying box after box of savory chicken liquid? You know, the stuff that gives your soups their flavorful slurps, the liquid that takes your green beans and potatoes to the next level, and the unsuspecting but incredibly important agent in my third helping scalloped potatoes?
If you’re like me, you find yourself stocking up (get it?) on chicken, beef or vegetable broths and stocks each time you walk into a grocery store. You can never have too much of this versatile liquid around. At roughly $2.00 or $3.00 a box, it makes me wonder – should I attempt to make it at home?
A few weeks ago I began obsessing over oxtails. Maybe the round, cylindrical shape of the meaty bones hypnotized me into saying “must make stock, must make stock,” so that when I found a few pounds on sale at the farmers market for $2.00, I purchased a few and decided to give it a try.
It was a total fail.
In it went mushrooms, onions, loads of garlic, herbs, peppercorns, celery and carrots in with the oxtails. Here’s what went wrong:
- Too much liquid. Since I threw everything in the slow cooker, I thought I could just add water, set it and forget it. Too much water meant the broth was very weak in the end. Reducing it did not help.
- Too much garlic. I swear I’ve seen Ina Garten throw in an entire bulb of garlic cut in half into a stock. It was overwhelming garlic, which was far too much for me and I love the stuff. She has done that, but with 7 quarts of water and an entire chicken, I’m sure it evens out better than mine did.
- Too much fat. My attempt at rendering the fat by browning the oxtails in the oven ahead of time was not enough. I should have browned them until more of the fat rendered. Once the stock cooled, I could skim some of the fat off, but that fatty flavor permeated the entire broth.
My “throw everything in and make a wish” idea didn’t work with oxtails, but that wasn’t enough to make me give up. Instead, after roasting a whole chicken a week or so later, I decided to try it again in a different way.
STOCK OR BROTH? WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Not much. Really, it all depends on who you talk to.
Both use meat and/or bones, vegetables, seasonings and of course, water. Some say stock is made with meat and bones while broth is made with bones and seasonings. Others say it depends on the ratio, where the more meat you have, the more of a stock it is, and if there’s more seasoning, then it’s more of a broth.
Ina Garten makes hers by simmering a whole chicken in water with vegetables. Alton Brown makes his using a pressure cooker (more on that later). Michael Ruhlman’s has few ingredients but simmers for hours. David Chang’s ramen broth is made complex by using kombu, a form of dried kelp.
Trusty scientist Harold McGee has this to say: “Meat is an expensive ingredient, and excellent source of flavor, and a modest source of gelatin. So the most flavorful and expensive stock are made with meat, the fullest bodied and cheapest with bones and pork skin, and everyday stocks with some of each.” That said, you can probably see how some define their stock and broth differently. Should you like to learn more about gelatin in bones and how this changes the structure of your stock, continue reading in On Food and Cooking starting at page 599.
Where does that leave us? Every stock or broth is different, but they both are meant to accomplish the same thing. Instead of thinking about whether you should reach for a stock or broth for your next recipe, consider thinking about how you are going to use it. Stocks provide more of a blank slate for you to add the seasonings, whereas broths will already have some flavor. Maybe. It all depends on who makes it and what their definition is. If you are reading someone else’s recipe, check out the ingredients and let that determine how their recipe will affect what you may be using it in. With so much dispute over the two, their definition may be different than yours.
It’s all the more reason to make your own instead of relying on what’s in the mystery boxed broth at the store. Instead of starting with a more difficult beef broth (like I did), let’s go for chicken.
A great chicken stock starts with the chicken.
This roasted chicken recipe happened by accident. We purchased what we thought was a split half chicken, but upon opening the packaged, we realized we had a split whole chicken. Bazinga!
Roast chicken is by far one of my favorite ways to cook chicken. Loads of butter, herbs, salt and pepper make a juicy, tender chicken that just sits in the oven while you plop your butt on the couch.
I believe my chicken broth is better because of all the herbs and butter that soak into the chicken and the bones during the roasting process. If you don’t agree, try using boiled bone-in chicken breasts and tell me there isn’t a difference. Seriously.
To begin, prepare to get up close and personal with the chicken. Place your fingers under the skin, loosing it from the meat, as to create a place for you to add the herbed butter. A butter pocket!
Once you rub the butter under the skin, rub it all over the outside. Massage that chicken. It’s about to do great things for you, so do something great for it. Season with a little salt and pepper and it is ready to go.
Both chicken halves were placed in the oven with a foil cover at 325 for about an hour until the skin was crispy and the chicken was cooked to 165.
The magical ending is this:
Besides the fact that it was incredibly tender, moist and delicious in all of those artery clogging ways, this chicken gave us two whole dinners for $6.05. Talk about a steal, especially when you include the stock.
A few meat scraps and fat pieces hung onto the bones because I did not clean it entirely. Not out of laziness, but because I wanted some of the chicken and fat to season the stock.
To make my stock, I used:
- 2 quarts water, just enough to give the vegetables and chicken room to swim
- Chicken bones from one whole chicken
- Quarter of a yellow onion
- 1 large carrot
- Celery bulb
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- A few springs of fresh parsley and thyme
What you should pay more attention to is the taste.
My stock was brought to a simmer and left uncovered for 1 hour. Only then did I add about a teaspoon of salt before letting it cook for another 30 minutes. Rocket science, right? Nope, just good old fashioned senses telling me it tasted great and was ready to use or be stored for later.
Once strained, the stock was left to sit in two one-quart containers and placed in the refrigerator.
There are arguments over cloudiness and how many times one must strain their stock. Unless you are making a French consomme (which I plan to tackle soon), which is a clarified stock, then don’t worry about it. Your homemade stock is not going to look like what you pour out of the box bought at the store. It’s not going to taste like that either. Because it’s going to taste BETTER.
Of course, Harold McGee disagrees with me, saying the “a classic meat stock should be made as clear as possible so that it can be made into soup broths and aspics that will be attractive to the eye.” Again, do what you wish and what you have time for. Either way, you’re going to like it.
What do you make? A stock or broth? Does it matter to you? How often do you make your own? Continue the conversation in the comments!