Let's talk about stock...

I recently used up all my chicken stock, so I’ve got another big batch on. I do it a little different each time. This time, I’m following Michael Ruhlman’s advice about not actually boiling the stock, just bringing it up to 170-180 degrees and keeping it there.

I’m also adding way more aromatics than I normally do. I’ve felt like my stock is a little thin at times, and I’m hoping the aromatics bring it up some.

So today I’ve got:

  • two whole chickens
  • about 8-10 chicken thighs
  • 3 pounds of onions
  • 1.5 pounds of carrots
  • 1.5 pounds of celery
  • a tablespoon or so of peppercorns
  • Water. How much? Dunno. Filled up my big pot (think it’s a 20 quart) maybe 2/3 full, that’s including the chicken but not the veggies.

I’ll add salt at the finish.

It’s been at 180 for about two hours now, with just the water & chicken. I’ve been skimming it as needed. I pulled the breast meat off the chicken a while ago, since I don’t think it adds much and now I’ve got poached chicken for soup/chicken salad/whatever.

Think I’m gonna add the aromatics in a few minutes and let them go for an hour or so.

So how do you make stock? Anyone done the low heat thing?

I make stock in small batches, usually when I’m dressing some chickens for dinner. In fact, I’ll be doing this tomorrow:

I pull off the wing tips, neck, back, and sometimes the breastbone if I’m spatchcocking the chickens. I line the bottom of the crockpot with onions, carrots and celery (2:1:1), add 4-5 garlic cloves, a tablespoon of peppercorns, and whatever fresh herbage I have handy. I top it off with water and let it do its thing on low for 18 hours to a day or more, after which I remove any fat I missed, strain (wire strainer then cheesecloth if I’m feelin’ fancy, a lot of the time I leave my stock a little rustic) and reduce on the stovetop.

I started using the crockpot because I’ve had the propane run out on me more than once making stock (I live in the boonies and have my gas trucked in). It seems to work much better IMO.

When you say “whole chickens”, are you including the skin? My recommendation would be to remove it, as it adds very little flavor and you risk emulsifying the fat into your stock. I’d also remove the meat as you did. The “low heat thing” is exactly how you make stock. Stock should not boil, as you end up with the emulsified fat problem described above, which will give your soup a greasy mouth feel.

I would suggest making a brown stock for added richness. It contains exactly the same ingredients that you’re using, but you roast the chicken bones and vegetables in the oven first (requires deboning the bird). I would not hold off adding the veggies until the end, but put them in right off and let them add their carotene and other goodness all along, since you’re not going to actually eat them.

The longer you simmer, the more your stock will reduce and the more intense the flavor will be. Two hours is not nearly long enough, IMO; 6-8 hours is better, 12 even more so. Skimming the fat off is critical, and you don’t want the stock to do more than just break a few bubbles on the surface from time to time while cooking.

Your recipe sounds pretty much like my usual stock-making method, though I always add a large bouquet garni of various fresh herbs (usually parsley, rosemary, thyme and oregano). I also add a couple of bay leaves if I have some lying around.

If I’m making stock for Jewish-style chicken soup, I also throw in a few parsnips, a couple of whole dried chiles (the little red ones that are also used to make hot pepper flakes), and lots of fresh dill in addition to the above.

If you do want a more neutral stock, though, your recipe sounds just fine. In our house, we tend to use most of our chicken stock as a base for chicken soup, hence the heavy hand with the herbs.

I bought a giant stockpot (36 quart, I think) because it’s just as easy to make a lot of stock as it is to just make a little.

I use whole chickens with most of the skin pulled off and lots of onion, carrot, and celery. I don’t add any herbs or salt; they can go in when I use it. I let it go at least 6-8 hours, or until the bones break with minimal force (per Alton).

The trick is cooling it down, so it can spend as little time as possible in the “bacterial danger zone” (40-140 deg). My pot fits right in one half of my sink, and I can run the water so that it fills the sink around the pot and drains into the other half. You can freeze some clean water bottles and chuck them in, too.

I’ve made stock just about every way known to man. It’s funny; the more you read, the more different ideas/views you get.

Ruhlman claims that chicken stock takes 1-4 hours, and in my experience he’s right. You seem to get most of the flavor out of chicken in that time. Beef/Veal takes longer.

I usually would agree with you on the skin, but in this case I’m being very careful with the temperature. It seems to me if I can keep it below 180, I’ll be able to easily pull off the non-emulsified fat after a night in the fridge. If it works, voila, I’ve simplified the recipe.

And, for what it’s worth, 170-180 degrees is WAY lower than even a simmer - nowhere near even “break a few bubbles on the surface from time to time.” I’ve always known to not boil it, but you can not boil and be at 200 degrees. That’s what I meant by the “low heat thing.”

Also - yeah, I know you can make brown chicken stock, but this time I wanted a light, neutral stock as I find it more versatile in the kitchen.

At 180F, there’s 0 risk of an emulsified stock as there’s no agitation from boiling and skin adds a significant amount of flavor and body. I’ve been working on a unorthodox method for stock that delivers an amazing punch in less than an hour.

Instead of using chicken pieces, reserve the excess fat and trimmings from disassembling chicken parts (I buy a giant pack of skin on, bone in chicken thighs and trim them down before freezing them). Either finely chop or just blend the chicken fat with some water until you have reasonable small pieces and then put in a non-stick pan and cook until the fat is completely rendered out. Add some onions, carrots and whole, skin on garlic cloves into the pan and cook until the vegetables are just beginning to caramelise and then add celery, bay leaves, thyme and enough water to cover. Cook at a low simmer for 40 minutes and then strain. What you get is an incredible, dark, sweet chicken stock that is so intense and heady you don’t even need to reduce it.

There are an awful lot of chefs who would disagree with you. Chicken skin adds nothing but fat. Any flavor that it might add is insignificant compared to bone marrow and carotene. While I agree that the fat won’t emulsify at that low temperature, it just creates a lot of extra effort to remove it from the liquid, and adds very little.

Just reread your method of rendering the fat. Different story, as you’re basically creating a brown stock on the stovetop. The drippings and the fond could be cooked into the stock, but I would still remove the fat pieces.

Interesting. So when you say “cook until the fat is completely rendered out”, how hot are you cooking at? Do you leave the fat bits in the pan when you add the veggies, or strain them out? I’ll have to try this - sounds like a great way to whip up a batch of quickie stock when you’ve run out.

One chef I knew made a fantastic chicken stock and his secret ingredient was a bit counterintuitive. He made a traditional homemade stock as outlined above, but reinforced it with a bit of Minor’s Chicken Base at the end. Now, I know some purists might balk or say what’s the point, but it was just a bit, and gave the stock some potency and an unequaled meaty richness.

I disagree that it’s a lot of extra effort to remove the fat. With or without skin, you have to remove the fat (unless you’re lucky enough to have a lot of naked carcasses lying around. I’m never that lucky, I’m always starting from raw chicken). To me, that means refrigerating it overnight and skimming the hardened fat off the top the next morning. Seeing as I’m going to be doing that anyway, it’s a heck of a lot easier to not have to skin the beasties before I make the stock.

Minor’s Chicken Base (as well as every other “base” I’ve seen) is mostly salt & MSG - basically (to me, at least) it makes fresh chicken stock taste like canned. The whole reason I make stock from scratch is that I’m trying to avoid that salty MSGy taste.

But yeah, I know a lot of people swear by the stuff. It’s not for me, though.

Well, there is a low sodium, no added MSG version of Minor’s Chicken base available, ya know. More than one way to pluck a chicken…

Chicken skin contains a significant amount of gelatine, far more than bones. Skin definitely adds a milder but also different flavor than bones which gives stock a more rounded profile. Carotene is a chemical that is found mainly in carrots and almost not at all in chickens.

My method of making stock has nothing to do with the classic method.

Yeah, that’s for sure. And yes, I know where carotene comes from.

Seeing as I was following Michael Ruhlman’s advice about the low temperature, I decided earlier tonight “What the hell? I’ll send him an email about the skin and see what he says.”

And HOLY SHIT, he answered me. happy dance. Michael Ruhlman, the guy who helped Thomas Keller write the French Laundry Cookbook wrote to ME :smiley:

His take: Skin, being connective tissue, adds both flavor and body, and it’s “always best to leave in.”

I’m gonna be makin’ me some skin-lovin’ stock from now on.

Do you cut through your bones? When making stock, I try to cut my chicken up into four inch pieces, give or take, making sure to cut through bone as much as possible to expose more marrow.

I also generally reduce stock a bit, so I leave it on the simmer for about 4-6 hours. Often, I’ll take half the stock to use immediately, and reserve half the stock to cook down to glace de viande. The glace then gets used for various things, but it’s also good to keep around to help strengthen a weak stock you may be making in the future that you don’t have time to concentrate.

I will also occasionally cheat a little with a little chicken base if I must. It depends on the particular dish I’m making the stock for.

Otherwise, my recipe is similar to yours but, being of Eastern European extraction, I tend to use celery root (aka celariac) instead of green celery and parsnips in addition to carrots. My mother used to roast the onion on the range and leave the skin on for additional color, so I do the same. I also add a couple of allspice berries (another Polish variation) to the broth.

I am appropriately jealous and humbled.

I’ve never tried this, but the Amish make a natural canned chicken in juices, it’s pretty concentrated as far as chickeny goodness, and it is natural… a can or several might really take the flavor up. Just an idea.

Likewise. And swooning, for that matter.

I agree with pulykamell on cutting through bones, at least any extra ones that aren’t part of the whole chickens if that’s the method she prefers. Pulling out The Elements of Cooking, I see that Ruhlman recommends cutting up the bones in his veal stock recipe, so I assume Athena was.