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.