Stracciatella Alla Romana, Plus a Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Chicken Stock

I saw this recipe in The New York Times Dining Section last weekend.  Stracciatella alla Romana, otherwise known as Roman Egg Drop Soup, is the perfect dinner for a chilly spring evening.

Forgive my shadow that's cast over “i straccetti,” or the savory, eggy little rags floating in this delicious, simple soup.

It’s not only a pretty dish; it’s light, feathery texture, robust flavor and ever-so-slightly spicy warmth will make you feel happy, snuggly, and satisfied.  And it’s a dish that comes together in 20 minutes, provided you have one ingredient on hand: homemade chicken stock.

If you do have homemade stock on hand, go forth, make the recipe and let me know what you think. I was lucky enough to have farm fresh eggs on hand for the Stracciatella, so I used more than were called for. It was not a mistake.

But in the event you don’t have homemade stock on hand— fret not, friends!  Save the soup recipe to make another night.

I have two approaches to making chicken stock, and both are equally simple. There’s the quick method, which takes about 2 hours of largely unattended time and can be done after work on a weeknight, or whenever you can eke out 2 hours from your day.   Then there’s the brown stock method, which takes anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of largely unattended time—perfect for a lazy or busy day spent at home. Either way you choose, you’ll still end up with a stock that’s better than anything you can get out of a carton or a can, and ultimately much less expensive.

And if you don’t eat meat, proceed without the chicken and make vegetable stock. Cut the simmering time by half, and you’ll still end up with amaaaazing stock.

What you need to make chicken stock:

  • One roasted chicken carcass (details below)
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 1-2 parsnips (if you can’t get them, it’s not a big loss)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • fresh herbs (rosemary, parsley and thyme are essential, sage is a nice addition, but anything else may alter the flavor of the stock)
  • black peppercorns
  • A large stockpot
  • A jelly-roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet, or a roasting pan
  • Cheesecloth (totally optional)
  • A mesh strainer (preferably a large one)

 How to make Brown Stock:

First ingredient: the carcass! If you’ve just made a roasted chicken, or roasted one a week ago and froze the bones, you’re ready to go. The important thing is that the chicken has already been cooked, and that some meat (preferably the wings) is still clinging to the bones. If you’re starting from scratch, get a raw, preferably organic, 3 -4 pound chicken. Rub some some butter on its skin, sprinkle salt and pepper all over it, and bake it at 400 degrees for an 1 hour. Then, carve the chicken, eat the meat or save it for some other use, and save the carcass for the stock.

A lot of chefs recommend using the neck bones and giblets, which you can do, but I don’t and my stock still tastes great. Generally speaking, you don’t want to include the heart or the liver—these organs are filled with blood, and blood will make your stock bitter. We want none of that.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Make sure your veggies are washed, but it’s not necessary to peel them. Cut the onion in half or into quarters. Slice the top off the head of garlic so the tops of the cloves are exposed. If your carrots, celery and parsnips are large, you can cut them in half across the middle. Next, lay your vegetables on the rimmed baking sheet or pan, making sure there’s some breathing room in between each piece—you want them to roast, not steam. Suppress the temptation to add oil or salt. They are not invited to the party tonight.

Let the vegetables roast 35-40 minutes. Check them out. Are they browning?  If yes, take them out. If not, leave them in until your see some brown. Remove the veggies, turn off your oven, and add the veggies and your chicken carcass to the stockpot. (If you are using a carcass that was previously frozen, make sure it is fully defrosted.)

Add enough cold water to the pot so that the carcass and vegetables are fully submerged, and then some more. Bring the mixture to a simmer. This will take a while, so in the meantime, let’s tend to the other ingredients.

Get about 1 tablespoon of peppercorns, 2-3 sprigs of rosemary, and 6-8 sprigs of thyme. You can put all of this in a cheesecloth pouch and tie it with butcher’s twine, or you can leave it loose—either way, you’re going to have to strain the stock anyway. Get a bunch of parsley and trim the stems.

An hour after the stock has been simmering—and it’s really important that it simmers and doesn’t boil—add the herbs, give the stock a stir, and find something to do for the next 45 minutes.  Check on the stock periodically over the next 5-7 hours and do the following:

  • Make sure the mixture is at a simmer
  • Skim off any foam that rises to the top
  • As water evaporates, add more. How much? Enough to cover everything in the pot.

As time passes, after the housework is done, or you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings series, or read Great Expectations, your stock will have turned a rich brown color, and the entire house will smell fragrant and delicious. You will attract neighbors and potentially some stray cats. The aroma is impossible to ignore. Inhale with pride.

Then turn off the heat and get an apron. Now it gets a little messy.

Get a large bowl and your strainer, and then using using tongs or a serving spoon, remove the veggies and chicken parts (which by now have nearly melted away), and place them in the strainer, pushing gently to extract as much liquid as possible. Then, discard the solids.

Pour the remaining stock in the pan through the strainer.  You may see some bits of herb and veggies; that’s okay. If you want a clear stock, strain again through a piece of cheesecloth over the strainer. Divide the stock into containers, allow to cool for an hour, and refrigerate anywhere from 4 hours to overnight.  The fat will congeal and rise to the top. Skim off, and then use the stock or freeze indefinitely.  Ultimately, you’ll end up with about four quarts of stock, which you can use for soups, sauces, or to add flavor to just about anything.

How to make quick stock:

You’ll still need a roasted chicken carcass (as described), but in this method, skip roasting the vegetables—just wash them, leave them unpeeled, cut as described in the previous steps and put in a stockpot with the carcass. Add cold water so that everything is submerged, bring the mixture to a simmer, add the herbs and peppercorns, and let simmer for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Strain as described. The stock will be much lighter in color, but still very rich in flavor, and especially useful as a base for lighter soups, stews and sauces.

 Why I don’t add oil or salt:

Stock is the base for a lot of recipes, and since it doesn’t require sautéing, no oil is required. Salt is generally added while preparing a recipe, or for finishing, so you don’t want to start with a salty base.

Magic comes to the Kitchen in the form of Glazed Chicken, Parsnip Apple Smash, and Tuscan Kale

MHB Glazed Chicken with Parsnip Apple Smash & Tuscan Kale

Today marks my first post on a chicken recipe.

This is no accident.  I don’t like chicken.

“How do you not like chicken?”  I’ve been asked so many times, and then given a bazillion reasons why I should like it. It’s a blank canvas. It’s easy to cook. It’s healthy. It’s cheap. It’s America’s favorite meat.

Oreos are America’s favorite cookie, and I don’t like them either. That’s just how I roll.

I do eat chicken, but I when I do, I like it fried and accompanied by cheddar waffles and root mash from this restaurant (recently reported to be a favorite of a certain power couple, which means I’ll never get a table again).  Occasionally I like chicken bathed in ultra-spicy and super-creamy green curry sauce, especially when I have a sinus headache. (Mmm… Thai food.)

On the seldom occasions I do eat chicken it’s neither healthy nor easy to prepare.  As you’ve probably noticed, most of my healthier recipes are veggie based—if I have to avoid my favorite meat (Steak! Steak! Steak!), I’d rather avoid meat altogether. The idea of poached chicken makes me wince. Grilled chicken breasts tend to be dry.  Roasted chicken, while tasty (especially when accompanied by mashed potatoes and buttered root veggies) just takes too long.

Glazing, however, is easy, quick, healthy, and above all—delicious, and it’s changing my mind about chicken.  I got the idea to make glazed chicken from this month’s issue of Cooking Light. I love Cooking Light (I’ve been a subscriber for four years), but I get annoyed with the magazine for publishing so many articles on chicken every issue. And at least three times a year, there’s a feature on 150 ways to revamp chicken breasts (I’m exaggerating, but it’s near 150).  Reinventing the wheel—and reading about reinventing the wheel—is exhausting.  But this time I’m not annoyed with Cooking Light. I’m down right thrilled with January’s chicken feature, if only for its guide to glazing chicken.

The inspiration for this recipe was the Maple Mustard Glazed Chicken (page 130), but since I didn’t have most of the ingredients that were called for, I improvised. I call my recipe MHB Chicken, because the base of the glaze is whole grain mustard (as opposed to ground), honey, and balsamic vinegar.  The technique is really simple and the dish is pretty quick to make. It’s also delicious and low in fat (yay).

Joining the MHB chicken for dinner tonight were two of my new favorites: Tuscan kale and parsnips, vegetables I was introduced to earlier this month at a cooking class at Camaje Bistro.  The class was a truly fantastic experience that I’d recommend to anyone living in New York or visiting town.  Abby Hitchcock, chef and instructor, has a very creative yet practical approach to cooking, and knows how to maximize flavor without complicating the cooking process—truly, a gift.

Tuscan kale, also known as Dinosaur kale, isn’t curly like regular kale, and its leave look sort of scaly.  It should be blanched and drained before sautéing.  I combined the parsnip with green apple and made what I call a smash—sort of a cross between a mash and a puree—that guarantees great texture & maximum flavor, using just a touch of butter and light cream.  I love the Parsnip Apple Smash as an alternative to mashed potatoes, which I love, probably because I load mine up with cheese. Parsnips also offer a really unique flavor profile—kinda sweet, kinda spicy, a little nutty, a touch peppery—which is boosted even further by the addition of tart apple & a generous dash of salt and pepper.

I hope you’ll make this meal, as I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.  Start to finish, it takes about 45 minutes to prep and cook everything, and the only special cookware you’ll need is an oven-safe skillet.

 Dinner:

MHB (Mustard/Honey/Balsamic) Glazed Chicken

Parsnip Apple Smash

Sautéed Tuscan Kale with Garlic & Oil

Serves 2

 Ingredients – MHB Chicken

  • 1 whole breast of chicken (about 6 oz)
  • Salt & fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium clove garlic, thinly sliced (not quite GoodFellas style)
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 1 ½ tsp honey
  • 1 ½ tsp whole grain Dijon mustard (easy to find at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Ingredients: Parsnip Apple Smash

  • 2 medium parsnips
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 small apple (Granny Smith recommended)
  • 2 tbsp light cream
  • 2 tsp butter

Ingredients: Tuscan Kale with Garlic & Olive Oil

  • 1 bunch Tuscan Kale (aka Dinosaur Kale), rinsed and cut into 1” strips
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin is ideal)

Method:

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add kale, and cook about 4 minutes. Drain and set aside. (You can do this part the day before & refrigerate the kale).

Once the pot has cooled, rinse and fill with water, this time adding a generous dash of salt, and set the heat to high.  While you wait for the water to boil, peel the parsnips and cut into pieces, about 1 inch thick.  Add the parsnips to boiling water, and set a timer for 8 minutes.

In the meantime, peel and core the apple, then cut into 1 inch pieces. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Then prep your glaze for the chicken: combine the garlic, thyme, broth and honey in a small bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the mustard and balsamic vinegar.

When the timer goes off, add the apple to boiling water and set the timer for 3 minutes. At the end of that time, turn off the heat and remove the apple and parsnip pieces with a slotted spoon and transfer to another dish. Carefully drain the water from the pot and put the parsnip and apple back in, then cover the pot and set it back on the stove.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the chicken breast. Set a medium-sized oven safe skillet on the stove over medium high heat. Once the pan is almost hot, add the oil and swirl to coat. Add chicken to the pan, and let it cook for 2-3 minutes on each side.  Remove chicken from the pan.  Add garlic broth mixture to the pan; it should sizzle just when it hits the surface.  Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the mustard and vinegar mixture, continuing to stir and cook for another minute.  Add the chicken back to the pan, then spoon the sauce over the top.  Cook for about a minute, then turn off the heat and transfer the skillet carefully to the oven.  Set timer for 10 minutes.

Turn the heat to medium under the pot of apple and parsnips.  Add the butter and light cream.  Using a fork or potato masher, gently smash the apples and parsnip into the butter and cream until all are just combined.  Season with salt and pepper to your taste.  Cover the pot and turn off the heat.

Smashed greatness.

Set a medium skillet over high heat, and once it’s almost hot add the oil for the kale.  Swirl to coat.  Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the kale.  (Since there will still be some moisture on the kale, the oil may sputter a bit upon adding, so stand back).  Stir the kale so it’s covered with the garlic and oil.  Turn the heat down to medium, and cook for 3-4 minutes, seasoning with salt to your taste. Turn off the heat and cover.

When the timer goes off, carefully remove the skillet from the oven.  Transfer chicken to a cutting board to rest.

Shh! It's resting.

You’ll notice the pan sauce has reduced to a syrup—this is what you want—but if it’s too thick, add some more chicken broth and bring the mixture to a simmer on the stove.  Once the chicken has rested 5 minutes, slice the breast meat diagonally and add that back to the skillet, gently tossing (or stirring) to coat with the sauce.

Now you’re ready to serve.  You could use the kale as a bed for the chicken, but I like to keep the sauces separate, so I served them alongside each other, then added the parsnip apple smash. Finish with ground black pepper, and you’re set.  All that’s left to do is eat.

Weight Watchers Points Plus Information:

  • Points Plus per serving: 10
  • (Yes, 10 points for the entire meal. Amazing!)