A new cooking lesson, how to make homemade chicken stock. Lots of tips and techniques, my own and Michael Ruhlman's, from his new book 'Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking'.
My kitchen bookshelves sag under cookbooks, the basement is home to two decades of food magazines.
Author Michael Ruhlman wants us to call these not ‘cook’ books but ‘recipe’ books. Recipe books, he says, teach us to follow recipes; cook books teach us to cook.
But acceptance is a virtue and me, I accept that I’m a recipe cook. Turning the pages of cookbooks and magazines, I experience the thrill of the hunt, the possibility of discovery: be still, my heart! Still, deep within, I long to be released from the shackles of recipes. In the cooking of my mind, I stand before a well-stocked pantry and a just-filled refrigerator, grab a few things and move with assurance to the stove; soon the table is ready, plated with foods tickling all the senses.
So when Michael offered a review copy of his new ‘cook’ book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, I accepted. Perfect! This was the way to begin transformation from a recipe cook to what I call an 'instinctive' cook, what Michael calls an 'improvisational' cook.
To understand the concept behind Michael’s book Ratio, take dough, say. Many doughs call for flour, liquid and fat. What makes the exact same ingredients morph into the oh-so-different bread, biscuits or cookies, well, it’s the ingredients’ ratios, one to the other.
Ooops. How much flour for bread? and biscuits? and cookies? “Hello, my name is Alanna and I am addicted to recipes.”
I learned much from Ratio. But again and again, my attention was drawn to the recipes at each chapter’s end. Much-practiced eyes scanned these basic recipes, quickly assessing what was new, interesting, appealing.
And then, my eyes stopped for a long time at the ratio for stock. Three parts water, two parts bone. Three parts water, two parts bone. I repeated the ratio for good homemade stock in my head, branding it onto my brain. Here was my initiation to really learning to cook, with stock, something I make most weeks without thinking but without really understanding, either. Three parts liquid, two parts bone.
“Hello, my name is Alanna and I’m a recipe cook. But there’s hope.”
MORE ABOUT MAKING HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK
Please, don't be put off by the long instructions for making chicken stock. It's long because there are so many inside tips, techniques to make your first stock a huge success. It's really a simple process, (1) browning the bones and aromatics; (2) simmering; (3) separating, skimming, straining and packaging; (4) freezing. I still use commercial stock but oh my, when I make soup with homemade chicken stock, it's just that much better. Plus I feel so good knowing exactly what's in the stock.
MORE ABOUT RATIO
Is the name Michael Ruhlman familiar? You might know him as an author, sure, but also as a judge on Iron Chef America or The Next Iron Chef or from the PBS program Cooking Under Fire. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Michael when he visited St. Louis in 2007. For a real 'celebrity' in the food world, he's much like the rest of us, fascinated by the art and science of cooking. He also seems -- there's no other way to put it -- just plain nice. More about Michael Ruhlman.
Ratio uses weight -- not volume -- for measurement. And if you don't yet have a kitchen scale, I'd definitely consider investing in one. My favorite kitchen scale is one of my Top Kitchen Tools.
If you're an improvisational cook -- or would like to become one -- you might want to purchase your own copy of Ratio.
Michael Ruhlman introduced his book Ratio on his own blog just this week.
Elise Bauer has reviewed Ratio on Simply Recipes.
There's another review of Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio on Serious Eats.
Plus, David Lebovitz's Pickled Jalapeños uses the brine from Ratio.
My favorite Michael Ruhlman book is Charcuterie.
HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK
Time to freezer: 24 hours
Makes about 6 cups of stock
BONES & AROMATICS
- 2 pounds chicken bones
- 1 – 2 large onions, skins on, washed, root ends sliced off, cut into quarters or eighths
- 1 – 2 carrots, washed, root end sliced off, cut into large chunks
- 1 – 2 ribs of celery, washed, cut into large chunks
OPTIONAL FLAVOR DEVELOPERS
- 2 bay leaves
- Fresh parsley
- Cracked pepper
- A spoonful of tomato paste
- 3 pounds cold water (about 6 cups)
BROWN the BONES Place the bones in a large oven-safe skillet about six inches under the broiler until they just begin to brown. [TIPS: When I make stock, I usually make two pots at a time, making efficient use of the oven and packaging time. But really, what’s important is to find your own rhythm, what works, timing-wise, for each cook. For bones, use either ‘raw bones’ or ‘leftover bones’. For ‘raw bones’, I use the backs and wings from a whole chicken. The butcher is happy to package these separately when he cuts up a whole chicken, they stay happy in the freezer until I’m ready to make stock. For ‘leftover bones’, use the carcass of a rotisserie chicken or a roasted chicken. The carcasses can also be frozen, making the question of ‘when’ to make stock flexible.]
ADD the AROMATICS Surround the bones with the onions, carrots and celery. Return the skillet to the broiler until the edges of the bones begin to blacken. [TIPS: I collect vegetable scraps – carrot peels, the ‘green’ leaves from leeks, onion skins -- in a freezer bag. Whenever it’s time to make stock, there are aromatics waiting. Red onions create a stock with lovely color.]
SIMMER Transfer the bones and aromatics to a large pot. Add the flavor developers and water. Cover and bring just to a boil – but, this is important -- do not allow to actually boil. Let barely simmer for a minimum of three hours, as many as eight hours, adjusting the temperature as needed to maintain that slow-slow simmer. During the first hour or so, if foam appears on the surface, skim it off. After foam no longer forms, if you like, transfer the pot to a very low oven, 180F, 190F, no more than 220F. [TIPS: Ratio’s recipe for homemade chicken stock suggests adding the aromatics and the optional flavor developers only for the last hour of simmering. This prevents the vegetables, especially, from soaking up the precious liquid. Be sure to cover the stock, otherwise all the liquid will evaporate and you’ll burn the stock. Yes, that’s experience talking.]
COOL & SEPARATE Let cool, then use tongs or a colander to separate the liquid from the solids. Discard all the solids, they’ve given their all, there’s nothing left to give. (Well, unless you compost or keep chickens!) Except! It’s common wisdom to discard all the vegetables. But my favorite 'improvisational' cook recently separated the vegetables from the bones, pureed the vegetables in the blender and made a great soup. It’s worth a shot – nothing to lose at this point!
SKIM OFF THE FAT Cover and refrigerate until a layer of fat forms on the top. Scrape this off -- it’s rendered chicken fat, also called ‘schmaltz’ and many people like to cook with it. (See Food Blog Search for schmaltz recipes.)
STRAIN If clarity is important, say for a clear soup or a fine sauce, then you’ll want to strain the stock. To strain, place a couple of layers of cheesecloth in a colander and pour the liquid through at least once, some times twice. [TIPS: Since my chicken stocks are used in hearty soups, I rarely go to the effort of straining. Ratio suggests substituting inexpensive white handkerchiefs for cheesecloth. They’re washable and re-useable!]
PACKAGE & FREEZE Transfer stock to freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as possible while sealing. Label and lay flat in the freezer. Later, they can be stored upright or however you choose. [TIPS: I put two cups of stock into a quart-size bag. Consistency pays when it’s time to grab a bag from the freezer. Do include the date in your label. Plan to use the stock within a couple of months.]
TO USE Place the freezer bag in a bowl to catch any stock that leeches out as it thaws. Let thaw in the refrigerator or fill the bowl with cold water to thaw more quickly.
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