03 November 2009

Comfort and Restoration: Chicken Broth

School's back in, the weather's turned cold and sniffles are everywhere. Add the current H1N1 meme to the mix and people are queued for injections, emptying shop shelves of antibacterial everything and screens of e-mails proffering "helpful hints" as to how to spot and avoid the 'flu, including giving up hugging and handshaking in hopes of "staying healthy." (Bah to that I say. Bah)

Watercooler talk has turned from the latest political discussions on pensions, media ownership and why Canadians didn't show up to greet Charles and Camilla to whether or not we'll be jabbed, whose child has been bedridden and what our individual bits of preventative and/or curative voodoo we each practise.

Regardless, when illness hits--whether it's a cold or a flu--many people turn to the revered chicken soup to, at the very least, make one feel all warm inside. Granted, some people grab a tin off the shelf and simply heat what marketers, bean counters and dieticians have dictated. Others zhuzh it up with bits of this and that. Others make it from scratch.

Me, I'll waver. If I happen to have any homemade stock in the freezer, I'll use that as my soup base, otherwise I'll doctor up store-bought.

Even though homemade soups are, I think, non-recipe recipes, mine generally start off the same way: chopped onions, sweated to translucency, garlic and then when it perfumes, add liquid, veggies, whatever meats, spices and herbs and then simmered until ready. That's what I call a "normal" soup.

Unsurprisingly, my curative broths contain a mélange of various peppers, seeds, herbs and roots. Little doubt remains of the South Indian under-, mid-, and over-tones in each spoonful. Veggies are whatever I have on hand, same for starches (noodles or rice), meat is (really) optional...but poaching a chicken breast or thigh in cartoned broth to give the illusion of a home made soup isn't unheard of.

Every once in a while, when I've collected enough chicken bits--wing tips, bones, bits of carcass--in my freezer, I'll start a stock.

No. I don't pretend to be some domestic goddess clad in a gingham dress feigning some ill-placed sense of moral superiority.

Stockmaking: It's easy. It basically looks after itself. It tastes better than what's found in tins or cartons. It's time consuming. It's cheap.

Stocks are also non-recipe recipes too. Put veggies, animal bits, and basic spices in a pot and more than cover it all with cold water. Heat, scum, heat some more, scum some more. Let it simmer until the veggies and bones have had all their innate goodnesses extracted...or as much as you want extracted. Strain, if desired. Use what you need within a few days; freeze the rest.

The recipe below is essentially the above, but quantified to a certain extent. I must admit to being sheepish about finished quantities, because of the variables of the amount of cold water you start off with and how long you let it boil (and, as a result, evaporate). Regardless, it's a worthwhile exercise, on a cool autumn night, before flu season sets in.

Golden Chicken Broth
yields 3 or more L of finished broth

1.2kg chicken, washed and jointed
2 medium cooking onions, skin on, quartered
3-5 garlic cloves, halved
1-2 carrots, cut into big chunks
1 celery rib, cut into big chunks
1 leek, cut into big chunks
2 sprigs parsley
1.5 tsp black peppercorns, crushed

Place all ingredients in a stockpot or a Dutch oven and cover with 4-6 litres of cold water, depending upon the volume capacity of your pot. Set the hob to medium-low.

After about 30-45 minutes, a layer of scummy foam will set itself on top of the water. Remove and discard as much of it as possible, while trying to keep as much of the schmaltz in the pot. Increase the heat to medium and continue removing scum every 30 minutes, until there's no more to be scummed.

Let boil, uncovered, occasionally and lazily stirring whenever the mood strikes. From time to time slurp some from your tasting spoon checking not only for salt, but also for desired depth of flavour. By my books, the stock is done when all the veggies yield to the slightest pressure of tongs, a spoon or fork. The total cooking time could be anywhere from four to six hours, depending upon your kitchen gods and how deeply flavoured you like your stock.

When done, remove the chicken herbs and veggies from the pot. If desired, strain through cheesecloth to clarify the broth.


I'm a quill for hire!

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1 comment:

NKP said...

Yay for making your own stock!
I just throw what fancies me into the slow cooker and let it do it's thing while I sleep. I am very lazy that way. ;-)
I wonder if flu scares kept the kids from trick or treating? We certainly had less this year.