Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Stock and Ready to Go

For years my pantry always had containers and cans of ready-to-use chicken broth. I experimented with different brands, some organic, some fat-free and low-sodium. They were convenient. They are convenient. But that's really their strongest selling point.

When I finally bought my own house and built a garage, there was no question but that I was going to have a freezer out there. That freezer has enabled me to make and store my own homemade chicken stock. And what a difference that's made, especially recently when I was under the weather and wanted to easily and quickly make some nourishing chicken soup.

You can easily find endless numbers of recipes on how to make stock. I've tried several. But my last batch has been remarkable for the ease and lack of waste involved. And, of course, the flavor. I had been at Lucky Seafood in Mira Mesa and decided to get some chicken legs there for stock. I've always liked how the big bones in the legs yield rich marrow for the liquid. But they didn't have pre-cut legs. I looked around the case and saw big, five-pound block-like bags of frozen chicken bones. While I was pondering if this was something to pursue, a customer came up to order them and told me she buys them all the time to make soup for her family. Sold.

Now, at an Asian market, the produce choices are going to be different from conventional American supermarkets. Ordinarily, I'd have bought carrots, celery, onions, turnips, and garlic for my stock. I found carrots and onions, but there were no turnips. Or parsnips, for that matter. So, I bought a large pale daikon radish. Weird, I know, but stay with me; it was a nice addition.

I'm not going to give you a formal recipe for this stock experiment, but this is what I did. I pulled out a huge pot, loaded it with the defrosted bones (primarily breast bones) after trimming away skin and fat, roughly cut carrots and the daikon, two quartered onions, and the unpeeled cloves of a big head of garlic. I had parsley from my garden so I threw some in. And, I finished it up with about a tablespoon of black peppercorns before filling the pot with water. I brought it all to a boil, skimmed the foam, reduced the temperature to low and let it simmer for about three hours. Then, using a ladle, I poured it through a chinois to get a clear broth and seasoned the rich liquid with salt. I filled perhaps a dozen different sized freezer containers, with labels showing the date.

But, we're not quite done. Once the liquid was removed I was left with cooked vegetables and bones. First, I pulled out the carrots and garlic cloves. Save those cloves. You've been given a lovely paste to spread on bread or add to pasta, sauces, and the like. I don't like cooked carrots much but my sweet dogs do. So, those were set aside with the residual meat I pulled off the chicken bones. There wasn't much -- hence my "lack of waste" comment above (usually, I'm left with lots of over-cooked, tasteless meat by the end) -- but just enough for a nice treat for the girls. Or so I thought. I packaged the carrots and chicken meat in little baggies for individual servings and put them in the freezer. Another benefit of using mostly bones and not meat is that my stock yield was easily doubled and the flavor was big. I tossed the cooked daikon.

Then I got sick. Well, not really sick, but my stomach was bothering me. I pulled out a favorite cookbook, Nina Simonds's A Spoonful of Ginger, looking for a chicken soup recipe that might go down easily but not require much fuss to make. I found several but, of course, I already had my stock. And, I had those frozen little packets of chicken and carrots. So, I riffed on various themes I saw in her book to come up with something of my own. The ginger and rice wine lift it from the traditional Jewish penicillin I'm used to, giving it a clean, delicious, and, yes, comforting flavor, which got even better each of the three progressive days I ate it.

Ginger Chicken Soup

8 cups of chicken stock
4 quarter-size slices of fresh ginger, smashed with the side of a heavy knife
1 cup rice wine (Symonds likes Shaoxing wine)
3 green onions, trimmed, cut in thirds

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. At this point, remove the ginger and green onions and add other ingredients you may have on hand. I put in about half a cup of the chicken pieces and carrots, half a dozen sliced shitake mushrooms, and chopped baby bok choy. I let it simmer for another 20 minutes and it was ready.

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